Editor's BlogOpinionTech Talk

Why Airbnb is just another tech giant that deserves its backlash

With the benefit of hindsight, a groundswell of public anger directed at big tech companies was probably inevitable.

Facebook is suffering the most prominent evisceration by the media and by politicians in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. People’s complaints against the social network giant’s apparently laissez-fair attitude towards privacy always struck me as a bit silly – after all, nobody was forcing a billion people to go online and proffer every nuance of their personality to the algorithm.

But then the story moved on: Facebook’s like buttons on other websites were collecting people’s data whether they clicked on them or not, and those who played certain online games through Facebook were unwittingly handing over all of their own friends’ data to the game developers. The data was escaping from Mark Zuckerberg’s grasp, and it is how tens of millions of people’s information wound up in the hands of companies we might prefer it hadn’t.

It’s also the consumer, who’s getting tired of ‘platforms’ that appear not to care a great deal about them, if they even see them as the customer at all

Why am I banging on about Facebook? It’s because the social network is only one of the ‘big tech’ companies facing a hostile court of public opinion at the moment. Airbnb – the hotelier’s nemesis – is another. It’s not just the hotel industry and its objections to competing with sub-let houses lacking the necessary fire safety compliance, insurance, tax and business rates. It’s also the consumer, who’s getting tired of ‘platforms’ that appear not to care a great deal about them, if they even see them as the customer at all – Airbnb’s CEO has had some comments on that distinction in the past.

This month we have a feature on a travel blogger who experienced the mother of all poor Airbnb experiences – as a guest – and who set out to do some research of his own into the problems others have had with the platform. Whilst it would not be credible to ascribe any scientific value to his enquiries, it is nonetheless illuminating to consider his findings.

I fear that the total domination of entire sectors by one internet company for each, whilst it may be good for the consumer’s wallet by a few pounds, is hurting a dozen industries and actually not providing punters with the great experience they promise. Call me protectionist, but I would prefer to pay a little more so that indies can stay in business and some notion of customer service survives, in everything from retail to cabs to holidays. If the tech backlash reaches an even higher pitch before it gets better, it would not be the worst thing for the rest of us.

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