Lawbreaking AirBnB At It Again: Sends Out Spam That Violates CAN-SPAM Act

I just received an e-mail from AirBnB which patently violates the CAN-SPAM Act by virtue of not having an unsubscribe option. It’s even cheekier for AirBnB to be contacting me since I am deeply opposed to AirBnB and have never once visited their site, and never have or would use their service, either as a lodger or a host. That means they are very likely to have violated the CAN-SPAM Act in a second manner, by virtue of having harvested my e-mail address.

A big problem with CAN-SPAM is the only parties with a right of action are “Internet Access Services” and not “natural persons,” as in end recipients.

Here are the relevant provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act per Wikipedia:

The 3 basic types of compliance defined in the CAN-SPAM Act, unsubscribe, content and sending behavior compliance, are as follows:

Unsubscribe compliance

  • A visible and operable unsubscribe mechanism is present in all emails.
  • Consumer opt-out requests are honored within 10 business days.
  • Opt-out lists also known as Suppression lists are only used for compliance purposes.

Content compliance

  • Accurate “From” lines (including “friendly froms”)
  • Relevant subject lines (relative to offer in body content and not deceptive)
  • A legitimate physical address of the publisher and/or advertiser is present. PO Box addresses are acceptable in compliance with 16 C.F.R.316.2(p) and if the email is sent by a third party, the legitimate physical address of the entity, whose products or services are promoted through the email should be visible.
  • A label is present if the content is adult.

Sending behavior compliance

  • A message cannot be sent through an open relay
  • A message cannot be sent without an unsubscribe option.
  • A message cannot be sent to a harvested email address
  • A message cannot contain a false header
  • A message should contain at least one sentence.
  • A message cannot be null.
  • Unsubscribe option should be below  the message.

Here’s the offending message, with the subject line, “Discrimination and Belonging: What it Means for You,” in its entirety:

The Airbnb Community Commitment


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  1. Jack

    I received the email as well, though I am a long time user of Airbnb. So they didn’t violate CAN-Spam for me like they did for you. I found this letter interesting in light of the fact that Airbnb allows West Bank listings in Israel. I have criticized Airbnb for this as have many others. I am not quite sure why they are sending this out now, but perhaps their “comprehensive effort to fight bias and discrimination” was a result of that controversy earlier this year. A little tidbit – Nathan Blecharczyk one of the co-founders of Airbnb was at one time a king of SPAM, running an operation called Data Miners out of Harvard dorm room. According to his roommate at Harvard, Blecharczyk received several cease and desist letters from the FTC and he had to shut down his spam business. Looks like he didn’t learn anything.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      If your message as the same as mine, it most assuredly DID violate the CAN-SPAM Act. It needs to have an “unsubscribe” link. They can’t keep you on their e-mail list if you don’t want to be on it.

      1. Anonymous

        If the parent poster has an account with Airbnb, could this email be considered a “transactional or relationship email” exempt from CAN-SPAM?

        Of course, that wouldn’t apply to the email they sent you, since you don’t have an account with them.

  2. Peter VE

    I’ve been an Airbnb host for several years, and I reserve the right to refuse service on the basis of hair color.

    I got the Email, and ignored it as a typical corporate consultant’s response to a bad story in the press.

    Airbnb has been getting worse at support for their hosts and guests. Several years ago, I could actually call someone for a problem. Now, there are layers of FAQs to get through before getting to an Email address for help. As they mine us for more and more $$, they supply less, and the problems of racist hosts or guests becomes “solved” with this anodyne “commitment” written by a gaggle of attorneys and solving little.

  3. DeadlyClear

    With so many other important issues at hand picking on AirBnB seems trite. Frankly, I find ActBlue offensive when you go to a poll and they charge your credit card without permission; I am offended when I receive unsolicited email offers for FREE SHIPPING only to order and find out the off doesn’t apply to Hawaii or Alaska (although the same USPS uses flat rate boxes throughout the FIFTY states)…I could go on and on but you get my point.

    Given the state of our failing economy – many folks are lucky to have an opportunity to earn income using AirBnB. Otherwise they might lose their homes. You may not like AirBnB for whatever reason and hopefully they’ll knock you off their list, but try to think about other folks not as fortunate as yourself who have remade their lives in the hospitality business and are just trying to earn a living in this era of over-regulation.

    1. cnchal

      Who said your home is an unproductive asset? Now your ‘investment’ can earn a real return. You just have to put up with crazy people from time to time. That goes for the buyer too, so even Steven.

    2. Scott F

      I am only asking that your “hospitality business” be treated like other businesses with regards to zoning, property taxes and access and safety rules. People in my neighborhood freaked out when they tried to rezone a local lot for a grocery store. “Traffic” was the number one complaint but I imagine propty value concerns were the elephant in the room. Somehow AirBnB is supposed to be immune to these factors that other businesses have to face

    3. Bugs Bunny

      Deadly, I sympathize and obviously it’s working out for you and there are more important fish to fry but… Yves’ point, I believe, is that the decision makers at AirB$B are constantly breaking the law with seemingly no second thoughts. In fact, the so-called gig economy has the assumption of impunity at the heart of its business model.

      This little missive, that I received as well, in violation of EU and French privacy law, sure looks like getting out in front of a potential Fair Housing Act violation or an equivalent law elsewhere.

    4. reslez

      > I find ActBlue offensive when you go to a poll and they charge your credit card without permission

      If AirBlue does this it sounds a little more than “offensive”. It sounds fraudulent and actionable.

      Which on second thought would put it alongside AirBnB in terms of blatant law-breaking, except there’s plenty of evidence for AirBnB flouting local housing laws and I’m not aware of similar issues with ActBlue.

      Even if AirBnB has helped some people, in some places, that doesn’t mean it’s net positive. (The same goes for ObamaCare….)

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      This is concern trolling, which is seldom in good faith, and I note you are an AirBnB defender. The solution to the economy is not making housing more expensive, which AirBnB does by taking property in neighborhoods zoned for residential use and turning it into de facto hotels. While the plural of anecdote is not data,. every single AirBnB host I know (and it is more than a few) isn’t renting out their residence on those occasions when they are out of town. They are renting or buying properties and leasing them out full time. I know one guy who is effectively illegally subleasing three apartments in NYC in addition to the one he owns. He gets away with it because they are in non-doorman buildings and he slips the super some cash so as not to rat him out.

      The solution to the fallen standing of the middle class is more demand and better labor rights, which will get wages higher. Your supposed remedy only makes matters worse.

      And I do want to call attention to Air BnB being lawless on every level, even small ones.

      You also, par for the course, misrepresent the nature of the offense. Those messages that bug you almost certainly allow you to unsubscribe. AirBnB does not, as I pointed out, so it also looks as if you didn’t bother reading the post in full. Commenting and making it evident that you didn’t read the content is a violation of our written site Policies.

      And your beef is additionally off base since this post did not come at the expense of other coverage. Our normal schedule, and we deviate from it only for fundraisers and issuing other site notices (like alerts re Lambert’s debate live blogs) is 3 posts on a Saturday. You can count in Recent Items and see that this was an extra.

    6. oh

      The “many folks” is probably a few. Allowing a huge law breaking corporation to flaunt all the local laws to make money for a few rich stockholders cannot be justified. This is the same kind of argument that some folks put up in defense of ObamaCare (unAffordable Care Act) not really admitting that those folks can’t ever afford the premium payments, deductibles and co-insurance which make mockery of unACA. In a true democracy, the laws work for most of the people, not the few,

  4. Mark H.

    Yves, you wrote, “A big problem with CAN-SPAM is the only parties with a right of action are ‘Internet Access Services’ and not ‘natural persons,’ as in end recipients.”

    That’s partly true; unlike the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the CAN-SPAM act does not offer a “private right of action,” gives a citizen the right to haul the perp into court for a statutory penalty.

    But the CAN-SPAM act also gives “certain governmental entities” the right to enforce it by hauling the perps into court. The FTC says that it and “certain other Federal agencies, and state attorneys general have standing to bring suits under Section 7 of the Act. See 15 U.S.C. § 7706.” So you might be able to convince the FTC or your AG to sue AirBnB. The FTC will go after egregious perps. How pro-consumer is Eric Schneiderman?

  5. reslez

    As far as I’m aware, it’s legal in some instances to discriminate on the basis of sex if the homeowner lives on the premises, For example, my sister and I might want a female roommate which would mean “discriminating” against potential male roommates. Of course AirBnB can enforce whatever policy they want for their service.

    Getting branded as a racist housing service would pretty much be a death-knell given the type of legal surgery AirBnB is attempting in cities around the world. No wonder they turned on the fire hose.

  6. Mike Rodent

    Scum. No unsubscribe link on it, and I’m not a subscriber.

    God I loathe these companies and the supine, half-wit governments that haven’t got the gumption to fine them in a manner commensurate with.

    Thanks for bringing the actions of these scum to the attention of the world.

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