Airbnb hosts with a listing in China were notified by Airbnb China by email that their information could be shared with Chinese government agencies without further notice starting from 30 March 2018.

Airbnb China explained that this was necessary for complying with local laws and regulations. A big “deactivate my China listing” button was included should hosts want to remove their listing.

The email sent to Airbnb China users

Online short-term rental services operate in a gray area in China, which has strict regulations for hospitality businesses. Guests must check in with a valid ID such as Chinese identification cards or passports and their information are recorded by hotels in a central register operated by local police bureaus.

For foreign visitors, the rules are even stricter. They need to be registered within 24 hours of arrival into China. If international visitors are not staying at a hotel or guesthouse, they must report to the police and depending on the local regulation, provide documentation such as rental contracts or property titles.

“As a foreigner myself, I’m familiar with the process of registering with the local police bureau. I’m comfortable explaining this to foreign guests,” Nicholas Clark, an Airbnb host with a listing in Jiangsu province, told TechNode. Failing to register on time would incur fines and could even lead to the barring of future entry into China.

Standard Practice?

Airbnb isn’t the only company that has had to make significant data policy changes for their China operation. Apple recently migrated their China iCloud operations to Guizhou Cloud Big Data (GCBD) in response to a Chinese cybersecurity law that requires companies to store user data in the country. GCBD is supervised by the Guizhou State government.

Of the five Airbnb hosts TechNode spoke to, most of them thought the email outlined the standard practice of operating in China. However, two did have concerns.

“To me, [the email] signals that they will very actively share data. Hence, I’ll delist,” said a Beijing Airbnb China host who wishes to remain anonymous. While Ms Zheng, an Airbnb host of 4 years, is worried about potential taxation and is considering whether to continue listing.

“Like all businesses operating in China, Airbnb China must comply with local laws and regulations. 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,” a company spokesperson told TechNode.

The email on information disclosure from Airbnb China comes at a time when data privacy is heavily debated. Facebook has been embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal. While in China, Baidu founder Robin Li has caught flak for a comment he made at a development summit.

“Chinese [users] are more open, [they’re] willing to swap privacy for convenient services or efficiency,” said Robin Li.

Updated 4:11 pm, 29 Mar 2018 to include a response from Airbnb.

Linda Lew is a Beijing-based journalist who covers technology, start-ups and business in China. You can reach her at lindalew at aliyun dot com.

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