Airbnb has created a way for San Francisco users to pester legislators about the issues that matter most — all at the push of a button. (Courtesy photo)

Airbnb has created a way for San Francisco users to pester legislators about the issues that matter most — all at the push of a button. (Courtesy photo)

Airbnb sends robo-emails from ‘hosts’ against legislation that doesn’t exist

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/on-guard/

Our dystopian future may see technology performing all human tasks, making much of our smarts and grit obsolete. In recent years, however, tech has even taken on the most dreadfully boring but perhaps impactful human endeavors:

Writing your legislator.

The Board of Supervisors are reporting receiving angry, automatically generated robo-emails sent by constituents who are also Airbnb users. While that’s not new, and even fairly normal, those emails took their job impersonating irate citizens perhaps too seriously — and are ranting and raving against legislation that doesn’t even exist.

And in at least one case, the robo-email was sent without the user’s permission.

Let me repeat this, because it’s so odd: Airbnb is marshaling its digital forces to complain about nonexistent legislation.

In one of these form emails, sent to Supervisor Malia Cohen’s office, a woman from Blackwell, Okla., (not exactly one of Malia’s constituents) writes:

“I am a San Franciscan and a member of the Airbnb community.” Uh huh. Tell me another one.
The email goes on to say, “I’m glad the City has reached an agreement that ensures the City’s short-term rental rules are enforceable” — an allusion to the recent lawsuit settlement between Airbnb and San Francisco, which requires Airbnb to list which of its users are registered with the Office of Short Term Rentals.

That was a big win for accountability on the Airbnb platform, and a loss for Airbnb’s profitability, as the platform sees big cash from its scofflaw super-users.

Here’s the kicker: The email continues, “I ask that you give the settlement the time it needs to take effect and not make further changes to the law which would confuse and disrupt the system for everyone.”

Airbnb is smarting so hard from the stinging loss to San Francisco’s crack City Attorneys and legislators that it’s asking for a breather. Rocky Balboa, they are not.

It’s still not clear how many of these robo-emails made their way to legislators’ inboxes. The offices of supervisors Ahsha Safai, Mark Farrell, Aaron Peskin and Cohen reported receiving them, though some only mentioned a few.

But some citizens are livid about it, even Airbnb customers.

Emily Grimm, a San Francisco resident and Airbnb customer, wrote to Peskin to complain the email process hijacked her voice as a citizen.

She said she saw an email inviting her to write to her supervisors in her inbox.

“I clicked because I wanted to read the text, and apparently a letter was sent using my personal information and misrepresenting me,” Grimm wrote, adding, “This is wrong.”

I contacted Airbnb but did not hear back.

Still, this makes me wonder: Does anyone remember when Airbnb put up billboards bragging about routine, expected move of paying its taxes?

If they put up billboards touting their civic engagement, remember to groan on cue.

* * *
Well, that was quick. Last week, regular readers may remember the extended eye-roll this column gave Supervisor Malia Cohen for taking $7,300 from AT&T lobbyists right before a key vote on expanding the number of AT&T utility boxes.

The cash was for her State Board of Equalization race, which, you know, snooze.

That is, until Cohen fashioned what amounted to a corporate giveaway, reducing a fee to paint the boxes to $500, which may be a fund for murals to beautify the boxes. The City pegged the cost at $7,500 per box, however — placing a far bigger burden on The City.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen called this amount, in open meeting, “not sufficient.”

Perhaps the pressure got to Cohen. At a Wednesday Board of Supervisors committee hearing, Cohen’s aide, Yoyo Chan, asked for an amendment to up that fee to $2,000. That’s more in line with The City’s estimates, even if it means we’ll get plain boxes instead of murals.

At the hearing, San Francisco native Dolly Parker told the supervisors during public comment, “The boxes are a blight on our streets … this takes the responsibility for cleaning up and puts it in the taxpayer.”

Compromise is key in politics, certainly. But considering the sentiment of the neighbors, maybe the supervisors should consider upping that fee one more time.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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