Fake Airbnb stays to help Ukraine. What could go wrong?
Photo illustration: Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Fake Airbnb stays to help Ukraine. What could go wrong?

Source Code

Good morning! People are using Airbnb in creative ways to lend support to Ukrainians in need. And the company’s been building its infrastructure to help facilitate this for years. I’m Sarah Roach, and I wrote a blog about dogs in fourth grade. It’s still up because I can’t log in anymore to delete it!

Beware the scammers

Tech companies are responding to the war in Ukraine with a few common strategies: Cut off Russia, donate to some charities or take down Russian state-run media. Airbnb did what it could on a company level to take action. Then, it let its hosts and other users take the lead.

Airbnb said it would offer free housing to up to 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine through Airbnb.org, its associated nonprofit.

  • This is not the first time Airbnb has provided free housing. Last summer, the company also gave free, temporary housing to Afghan refugees while tens of thousands of people fled Kabul.
  • Airbnb is already getting a ton of support for Ukraine. As of Sunday, CEO Brian Chesky said that more than 11,000 hosts signed up to offer their homes to Ukrainians in need.
  • Airbnb is also taking donations to support hosts who can’t give free housing. Mila Kunis, who is Ukrainian, and her husband, Ashton Kutcher, want to raise $30 million for Flexport.org and Airbnb. That money will help pay for these stays, Chesky said.

But Airbnb is also being used to funnel donations directly to people, rather than acting as a liaison between charities and the country.

  • People are booking Airbnb stays and experiences in Ukraine that they don’t intend on using.
  • Nearly 61,500 nights were booked in Ukraine, giving $1.9 million to hosts in the country, Chesky tweeted.
  • The platform is also temporarily waiving guest and host fees on bookings in the country. Without that, the bookings wouldn’t make much sense as a charitable move, since Airbnb takes about 17% of a typical transaction.

Airbnb has slowly built up the infrastructure to allow for this sort of philanthropy.

  • Back in 2012, the company wanted to waive its fees for reservations in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. But Airbnb’s website hadn’t been programmed to allow people to rent rooms for free.
  • An engineer rewired the site, and within a few hours, people were able to book spaces for free.
  • Since then, Airbnb has waived fees for people fleeing wildfires in California and Greece, hurricanes from Texas to North Carolina, and the fall of the Afghan government.

There are a few ways this type of grassroots effort could go wrong. Since people began booking rooms in Ukraine, some took to Twitter to warn about potential scammers.

  • The company has processes in place to verify hosts. Airbnb asks for people’s names, date of birth or government ID for certification.
  • Still, getting thousands of people to book stays through Airbnb that they don’t intend to use means the guest will never meet their host, and as a result, never know if that person is real or not.
  • “Were I a Russian scammer, I would be setting up fake Airbnbs in [Kyiv] and Odessa as fast as I could to cash in on those noble intentions,” one person tweeted.
  • Airbnb didn’t return Protocol’s request for comment about what steps the company is taking to ensure hosts in Ukraine are verified, aside from its usual protocol.

Airbnb has set up a platform that allows people to help those in need. But it’s easy to take advantage of people’s generosity, especially when you don’t even know the person you’re giving to. Hosts who say they live in Ukraine are posting tons of listings titled “Kyiv needs you” and “Book and help Ukraine.” But before you put money down, make sure the host has been around for some time. And read the listing extra carefully.

— Sarah Roach (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM 4-H

Gen Z is poised to help everyone - from a rural small business to a tech giant - rethink how their business operations can help alleviate the digital divide. It’s time to give Gen Z a seat at the table for the generation that sees how tech can be a benefit but often is the barrier for advancement.

Learn more

People are talking

Clarence Thomas wants to talk about Section 230 again:

  • “We should … address the proper scope of immunity under §230 in an appropriate case."

Google is working to cut down food waste, Sundar Pichai said:

  • "We're pledging to cut Google's food waste in half, and send zero food waste to landfill by 2025."

Making moves

Google is buying Mandiant, a cybersecurity company, for $5.4 billion. The company will join Google Cloud.

Binance introduced Bifinity, a payments tech platform that can facilitate fiat-to-crypto transactions.

Mobileye wants to go public. It’s part of Intel’s bigger push to home in on autonomous vehicles.

Amazon bought Veeqo, which helps online businesses sell products on and off Amazon, for an undisclosed amount.

Brice Hill has joined Applied Materials as SVP and CFO. Hill was most recently the CFO of Xilinx.

George Slover joined CDT as general counsel and senior counsel for competition policy. Slover was most recently senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports.

In other news

Instagram’s Boomerang and Hyperlapse left the app stores, just a week after the platform shut down IGTV.

Silicon Valley is not dead yet. A new survey found that the San Francisco and San Jose areas actually expanded their share of tech jobs during the pandemic, contrary to what all the Miami movers and digital nomads would have you think.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are working together against unionization. The companies plan to run ads in D.C. promoting the flexibility of contractor work, the Wall Street Journal reported, hoping to convince lawmakers not to classify workers as employees.

WeWork is shutting down in Russia. Last week, CEO Sandeep Mathrani said he didn't think the company would leave the country, but now it's shutting down offices and divesting its operations.

Biden wants city and school buses to go electric. The administration announced billions of dollars in funding, some of which will go to public transit agencies and states looking to switch to electric fleets.

Google is lending out its office space. The company is letting organizations that provide legal and psychological support to people leaving Ukraine use its Startups Campus in Warsaw.

Coinbase blocked over 25,000 crypto wallets tied to Russian users who the company thinks are engaging in illicit activity. And FinCEN warned the Russian government and others to not use crypto as a way to avoid sanctions.

Ubisoft and Take-Two are stopping game sales in Russia, following similar moves from Activision Blizzard, EA Games and others.

The Amazonification of Whole Foods

The humble grocery store might soon be a thing of the past.

The new Whole Foods location in Washington, D.C., is showing off its techy side: It’s run by tracking and robotic tools like Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology. Cameras — not employees — follow you around while you’re shopping. When you walk out of the store, Amazon emails you a receipt, which tells you how long you shopped and how much you owe. If this sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of this tech is already used in Amazon Go convenience stores, but this is one of the first times it will be used in a 21,000-square-foot store.

A MESSAGE FROM 4-H

People often think of the digital divide as being just about broadband access, but it is also about understanding the needs and tech literacy levels across roughly six generations. Gen Z could help companies develop products and apps that better serve the needs of our communities, our country and our world.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Correction: The top item in this newsletter was updated March 8, 2022, to reflect that housing is being organized by Airbnb.org.

Recent Issues

Your holiday book list

A tale of two FTXs