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Sharing economy

Airbnb complies with China law to hand over guest details as listings double 

Airbnb’s compliance with Chinese regulations requiring foreigners to register their accommodation with local police within 24 hours brings it in line with hotels and guest houses.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 7:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 11:22pm

Airbnb, the sharing portal that connects homeowners with renters for short-term leases, will begin to submit guest details to Chinese authorities from Friday, bringing it in compliance with local regulations requiring foreigners to register their accommodation with the police.

In a notice sent to homeowners, or hosts in Airbnb parlance, the San Francisco-based company said it will hand over the details of people who stay at its properties to the Chinese government from March 30. The company provided a click-through button for hosts to remove their listings from Airbnb. 

“Like all businesses operating in China, Airbnb China must comply with local laws and regulations,” Airbnb said in a statement. “We’re committed to doing all we can to keep our hosts and guests informed about our work in China and we recently updated our hosts about our requirements under the law. The information we collect is similar to information hotels in China have collected for decades.”

Foreigners staying at the homes of Chinese residents, in cities and towns, must submit the temporary residence registration form to the local Public Security Bureau together with their passport or identification information within 24 hours of arrival. In rural areas, this must be done within 72 hours, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

At hotels and registered guest houses, this submission is handled by the reception, which will require registration details and scan or photocopy the guests’ passports. Chinese citizens also have to register when they stay in hotels. 

This move takes place as Airbnb steps up its expansion in China, its fastest-growing domestic market. The company’s listings in China have almost doubled in the last year, with more than 3.3 million guest arrivals by local travellers alone. Airbnb competes with local apartment-sharing portals such as Xiaozhu, which began testing smart locks that can be opened by scanning tenants’ faces and satisfy laws requiring identify verification.

Airbnb's move comes as the Chinese government looks to legalise the sharing economy industry in China as part of its Internet Plus initiative, according to Kitty Fok, managing director for IDC China. The government's Internet Plus initiative aims to connect industries in China to the Internet.

"Many of these sharing economy companies were previously operating in a grey area but now they can operate legally as long as they play by China's rules," Fok said. "Especially for foreign companies like Airbnb, if they do not comply it will be hard to survive and compete with local rivals. Even companies like Apple have to acquiesce to China's local data storage laws."

Apple moved its Chinese users’ iCloud accounts to a new Chinese data centre in Guizhou to comply with new laws. 

The way technology companies handle and safeguard the personal data of consumers has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of a global data harvesting scandal involving Facebook. The social networking giant has lost tens of billions of dollars in market value after Cambridge Analytica, a British data firm with ties to US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, was accused of illegally harvesting information from around 50 million users without their knowledge.

Airbnb on Thursday introduced a number of initiatives, including a premium tier of homes for rent that have been vetted for cleanliness, design and comfort. Shanghai will be the first city in China to have this higher bracket of listings, called Airbnb Plus. The company also launched an academy to provide training for property owners to be better hosts.

Airbnb, founded in 2008, has a goal of 1 billion guests by 2028, which cannot be achieved without its community of hosts in China, according to Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s co-founder, chief strategy officer and China chairman.

“China is a critical part to Airbnb’s mission of creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere,” he said in a release. “By 2020, more Airbnb guests will come from China than any other country. We will continue to deepen our commitment with the goal of bringing authentic magical travel experience to Chinese travellers.”

While foreign guests may have concerns about sharing their personal details with the government, the property owners that rent out their apartments have another concern: taxation.

Min Jie, a 32-year-old Airbnb host in Beijing, said he is not worried about the information Airbnb is going to share with the government, but he does have concern that the move may lead to taxation of the rent in the future.

“I have been renting this small apartment of mine for almost two years without paying any tax for the income I have made, because apartment sharing is not a regulated territory in China,” he said, adding he makes about 4,000 yuan (US$640) a month from leasing out the place. “But by sharing all the booking information with the government, I am afraid that the day for taxation will come soon.”

About half of Min’s guests are overseas guests who visits Beijing for travel or for education. “Only a handful of them ask my help to do police registration as it is a complicated procedure requiring the accompaniment of local hosts,” he said.