In an explosive new report published in The Wall Street Journal, a top executive at the American behemoth Airbnb had revealed that he had resigned last year over the company’s dubious data-sharing practices in China. The executive, who resigned barely after six months into service, had alleged that Airbnb shared details such as phone numbers, email addresses with the Chinese government when the users booked a rental.
Sean Joyce, a former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was hired in May 2019 by the home rental service Airbnb as its first “chief trust officer”, a role which involved safeguarding users’ safety on the platform.
However, six months later, he expressed concerns over the organisation’s practice of sharing data on millions of its users with the Chinese authorities. Joyce was alarmed that the organisation was not fully transparent about the data shared with the Chinese Communist Party, including details of Americans who used the company’s services in China.
“Joyce also objected to the scope of the data shared, such as messages sent between guests and hosts,” the report published in the WSJ said.
Though Airbnb had told users since 2016 that it shares their details with the Chinese government as per the review of its communications, Joyce believed that most of the users were not aware of the scope of their details shared, which included phone numbers, email addresses, transcripts of the chat messages between the guests and the hosts, the article said.
When contacted by the Wall Street Journal, Mr Joyce responded that he has “differences in value” with Airbnb.
Joyce resigned in 2019 after Airbnb leadership defended its compliance of China’s data-sharing requirements
According to the report, Joyce confronted the organisation leadership in summer 2019 after Chinese officials sought more details such as “real-time” data of the users seeking rental services. In the meeting, which was attended by Chief Executive Brian Chesky and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk, who leads Airbnb’s China unit, Joyce accosted the leadership about the organisation’s willingness to share users’ private data with China.
“We’re not here to promote American values,” Mr Blecharczyk reportedly told Mr Joyce. Weeks later, Joyce tendered his resignation.
Airbnb did not respond to the report, most likely because it is in a “quiet period” after announcing it is going public with an IPO.
Company says it could lose its ability to operate in China if it didn’t comply with their demands
“When it filed to go public this week, Airbnb Inc. that its ability to continue doing business in China is a risk factor for its brand and profitability,” the report said. It added that the company could lose the ability to operate in China if it refuses to comply with the country’s data-sharing requirements.
“Operating in the country has sparked debate among the home-sharing startup’s senior leadership for some time, leading a top executive to depart abruptly last year, according to people familiar with the company,” it added.
However, Airbnb’s readiness to divulge data to the Chinese authorities has paid rich dividends to the home-rental organisation. “Airbnb’s business in China has grown astronomically in recent years, rising from several thousand listings at the end of 2014 to about 372,000 active listings in September,” the report mentioned.