Airbnb ID verification process brings ‘shame’ to trans people, user says

A Canada-based Airbnb user has told PinkNews he was left feeling “shame and embarrassment” when the ID verification system required to book a reservation on the web platform failed.

Yuri Matamoros-Hernandez, a transgender man, was trying to book overnight accommodation close to the clinic where he is due to undergo top surgery on July 25 in Mississauga, near Toronto. As part of the booking process, he was asked to verify his identity by submitting an official document to match a selfie taken in that moment.

Matamoros-Hernandez said he has been undergoing hormone replacement therapy for the past year, which has altered some of his facial features. As he feared, the ID verification process failed, so he contacted customer support to see if the issue could be fixed. He said explained his situation and was made to go through the ID verification process again. And again, it did not work.

Matamoros-Hernandez said that at that point, the customer support agent—whose name he could not recall—gave up. “She didn’t even try to put me on hold or find an alternate solution and said, ‘Well, I don’t know how to help you, you have to go with someone else and book through them.’ That was it. So no ‘sorry,’ no ‘let my try to speak to management,’ no ‘this is not okay and you should not have to go through this,'” he recalled.

He has since been trying to highlight the situation to Airbnb via Facebook. “I was really expecting more, especially from an app that is most likely created by humans that are understanding and accepting although I am feeling none of that today. Airbnb, you have made me feel shame, embarrassment and have created such a traumatic experience for me,” he wrote in the post, posted on Airbnb’s main Facebook page on July 13.

Airbnb commented on the post apologising for the experience and offered to help via DM. But the follow-up, seen in a screenshot provided to PinkNews, once again requested that Matamoros-Hernandez upload selfies and his ID, saying the previous ID scan did not upload “due to being ‘not readable’ by the system” and listing a series of issues such as the ID scan being upside down and not signed, and needing to upload two selfies without glasses on.

A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet in Berlin on April 28, 2016 (Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty)

“I tried it and it didn’t work. Also my photo was not upside down and it has my signature as it’s my passport,” Matamoros-Hernandez told PinkNews, saying he has previously used the passport for other ID verification processes without encountering problems.

Airbnb introduced the ID verification process in 2012 as an option for hosts to verify their guests. Not all hosts require this kind of verification and guests may be advised to book with a different host should the process of verification fail.

An Airbnb spokesperson denied that the photo matching was an issue in this case. “Our guest was unable to complete the identity verification process because their government-issued identification was not scanned properly, leaving an incomplete image. There was no issue with whether the pictures matched or not, just that the image was incomplete.  We are in contact with our guest to help assist them and sincerely apologise for any inconvenience,” the spokesperson said in a statement to PinkNews.


Yuri Matamoros-Hernandez portrayed in his Facebook profile picture (Courtesy of Yuri Matamoros-Hernandez)

Matamoros-Hernandez disagrees with Airbnb’s assessment. “They are NOT in contact with me and they have not offered a single resolution to my case. In fact, they asked me to go through the exact same process as the screen shots I provided show. That on its own, after all of this, is pathetic,” he said.

“They have a Pride flag up on all social media outlets during June, meanwhile they submit some of their customers to verification methods that don’t only violate their character but invalidates who they are as a person and takes away a basic right that comes naturally to anyone who doesn’t identify within that community. To me this is transphobia,” he added.

Airbnb has publicly supported LGBT issues such as marriage equality. The company has previously faced criticism after some the hosts on the platform refused guests on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and introduced an anti-discrimination pledge in October 2016.

It is unclear whether all customer support agents are trained in dealing with instances of discrimination against LGBT+ people, but the company said it has a dedicated team of customer support agents dealing with claims of discrimination and all Airbnb employees globally are required to complete anti-bias training.

Matamoros-Hernandez has in the meantime found accommodation in a hotel with help from a friend. While he is no longer looking to book on Airbnb, he hopes sharing his experience can highlight the shortcomings of the verification system.

“I do not feel this issue has been resolved. I would like an apology, a phone call, an explanation as to why this has not been changed or improved. I will continue to push this as far as I can until I get this,” he said.