People are still getting used to the idea of services like Airbnb, which connect guests who wish to stay in new places with hosts who have accommodations to share. But as a peer-to-peer marketplace for people’s homes, Airbnb’s success still relies on ensuring that its users trust one another. Today, it took another step toward that goal, with the introduction of Verified Identification, which will connect users’ online and offline identities.
Airbnb has undertaken a number of initiatives over the past few years to build its users’ trust and ensure their safety. The marketplace has a ratings system which is designed to allow both guests and hosts to provide feedback on their stay. It also allows them to act as references for one another, especially helpful for first-time users. And Airbnb has implemented a $1 million guarantee for hosts, as well as a secure payment structure and 24/7 customer service.
The company is now seeking to take all that a step further, with a new feature that will link users’ online identities to their real offline identities. Previously, users could authenticate with the system by connecting their Facebook or LinkedIn identity with their Airbnb accounts. But the new Verified Identity system will tie a user’s account to his or her offline identity.
To do so, users simply go to www.airbnb.com/verify and login. The system will prompt users then to verify their offline identity in one of two ways: either by scanning a photo ID or passport with their webcam or mobile phone, or by answering the same sort of historical information you’d be prompted with when doing a credit check. For the system to work, both the online and offline accounts need to match.
The Verified Identity feature will first launch in the U.S., and users here can begin to opt-in and verify themselves today. Hosts will also be able to require users to be verified before they book a room. But if hosts set that requirement, they themselves also must go through the new verification system. That’s one way Airbnb is trying to drive adoption.
Another way that Airbnb will get people to sign up is by requiring that 25 percent of all users will need to get verified before they’re able to book a reservation. That 25 percent will be chosen randomly, and once a user is verified, he or she will never have to go through the process again.
In the short term, requiring a percentage of users to verify their offline identity will add a small bit of friction to the booking process, and could result in users dropping off before completing a booking. If a user is asked to verify his or her account, either because a host has required it or they’re part of the lucky 25 percent, then they’ll have 12 hours to do so without losing the reservation.
It’s important to note that, at least for now, that 25 percent is only required for U.S. users. Airbnb has said in the past that about 75 percent of all bookings have some international component — that is, either the place being booked is outside the U.S. or the guest is not a U.S. resident. Over time, Airbnb plans to increase the percentage of bookings which will require an identity verification. And it also plans to make it required outside the U.S. at some point.
Airbnb believes that the Verified Identity system will not only help foster more trust between guests and hosts, but also help to build more community. “The more info you can provide to each other, the better the Airbnb experience,” Airbnb communications manager Jakob Kerr told me. “Someday we might get to point where you’re not staying with a stranger.”