Did Airbnb ban a renter just because she’s a sex worker?


Airbnb can kick you off its platform and not give you any reason for it, as dominatrix Julie Simone discovered within hours of signing up for the service, when the company decided she was not welcome in the Airbnb community.

Although Airbnb didn’t give Simone an explanation, she thinks it has something to do with her lifestyle. As a sex worker with a popular presence online, it’s easy to find out what she does for a living and, according to Simone, the company may have done a cursory Google search and deemed her unfit for an Airbnb tenant. 


Simone reached out to Airbnb for an explanation when she received the account cancelation email on Wednesday, and a number of her supporters tweeted at the company after she shared the email and did not get a response. 

It wasn’t until Thursday afternoon—soon after the Daily Dot contacted Airbnb for more information regarding Simone’s deactivation—that she received a follow up email from the company. In it, Airbnb declines to provide any additional information. 

Julie Simone

Sex workers have used Airbnb rentals in the past for client work, and Airbnb does not allow it. Additionally, renters have hosted sex parties, much to the surprise of their hosts. Last month, one San Francisco sex worker called Airbnb a “boon” to the industry, because the low-cost rentals can help some sex workers transition to working indoors.

While the on-demand lodging app may be helpful in making illegal sex work safer, what Simone does for a living is in fact perfectly legal, making her ban even more confusing. 

“I can understand why they would be cautious, but I think there’s a review system in place for a reason, and I don’t think you can punish someone for something they haven’t done yet,” Simone said in an interview with the Daily Dot. 

Simone said that she signed up for Airbnb because other women in her industry recommended it for having inexpensive and convenient places to stay. 

“For privacy reasons we can not comment on the specifics of this case,” an Airbnb spokesperson told the Daily Dot. “As a general matter we constantly review our platform to ensure that the use of listings are in line with what our hosts and guests both expect.”

Poor response and acceptance rates are two ways people can get kicked off the site, or during Airbnb’s reviews of accounts that ensure a “trustworthy community,” according to the company’s help pages. But Simone said she chatted back and forth with her host in New York multiple times before securing the rental, and had a positive experience with them. 

“A light needs to be shown that you can’t treat people like this, you can’t marginalize a group of people,” Simone said. “What’s to stop them from saying they’re not going to rent to Muslims?” 

Sienna Baskin, co-director of the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project in New York said that if Airbnb did in fact deactivate Simone’s account because of her public profile and identity as a sex worker, it’s troubling. 

“There is a possibility this could be seen as discrimination, and that’s concerning to me and to us because there are other examples of blacklisting people for their identity as a sex worker that has impacted people’s rights, such as people having their bank accounts closed by banks that decide they have a policy against people who do sex work,” Baskin said in an interview with the Daily Dot. 

Because Simone was not given a reason for the arbitrary shut down of her account, she could not fix whatever problem Airbnb had with it and potentially use the platform again. Instead, the company decided to lose her business entirely.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

*First Published: Mar 4, 2016, 7:58 pm CST

Selena Larson

Selena Larson is a technology reporter based in San Francisco who writes about the intersection of technology and culture. Her work explores new technologies and the way they impact industries, human behavior, and security and privacy. Since leaving the Daily Dot, she’s reported for CNN Money and done technical writing for cybersecurity firm Dragos.

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