Insights & Analyses

Seen and heard at KNOW, day 2: In a world losing trust, learning Trust & Safety lessons from the sharing economy

“Trust me.”

Two simple words that are almost always guaranteed to make someone not trust you.

As former deputy chief of staff for the CIA, Nick Shapiro and his conservative, transparent approach to establishing Trust & Safety are not particularly popular in some circles at his new job — as global head of trust and risk management at Airbnb.

The user-driven home sharing platform strives for a frictionless user experience, making it easy for homeowners to rent out their abode on a short-term basis, and for travelers to find a reliable and safe hotel alternative.

Shapiro’s background in national security gives him a different perspective, however. In his view, friction is actually an incentive against bad behavior.

“You can’t sweep these things under the rug,” Shapiro told attendees at day two of OWI’s 2018 KNOW Identity Conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. “You can’t hide them. You have to give people the information, and then they decide for themselves.”

Shapiro also acknowledged that things will inevitably go wrong. In the case of Airbnb, the rate of incidents where hosts incur major damage to their property, or renters are physically injured, is incredibly low — just a small fraction of a percent. But even if those numbers were worse, Airbnb should disclose them to customers in an effort to earn their trust, he said.

“We can’t prevent everything from happening — even with the best technology there is,” he said.

Similarly, in the event that something goes wrong, if a company responds well, customers almost always come away from the resolved dispute with an even better opinion of the company, even though there was a problem. In this sense, Shapiro said that service providers should always ensure that the response to a situation doesn’t compound the incident.

“Think about the second breach of trust even more than the first one,” he said.

All of Airbnb’s work to ensure the safety of both hosts and renters creates a lot of work for the company — and that’s precisely the point, Shapiro said.

“It takes work. You have to facilitate that trust,” he said. “You have to earn that trust. You have to build that trust.”


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