Airbnb exec resigned over concerns company shared too much data with China
November 22, 2020
The former chief trust officer of Airbnb was so concerned about how much user data the internet behemoth was sharing with China, he resigned from his post last year after just six months on the job.
Sean Joyce, Airbnb’s former chief trust officer — also a former deputy director with the FBI — reportedly resigned last year over concerns about how much user data the company was sharing with China.
Joyce was hired as the company’s first chief trust officer in May of 2019 to help protect users’ safety on the platform — but he abruptly resigned from his executive position after just six months on the job “over concerns about how the massive rental platform shares data on millions of its users with Chinese authorities,” sources told The Wall Street Journal.
“Joyce grew alarmed during his tenure that the company wasn’t being fully transparent about the data it shares with the ruling Chinese Communist Party government, including for Americans traveling in the country,” sources said, according to the paper. “He also was concerned about what he viewed as Airbnb’s willingness to consider more expansive data requests from China.”
Airbnb, which filed to go public this week and, in that filing, admitted its “ability to continue doing business in China is a risk factor for its brand and profitability,” claims it has always been transparent about its information sharing with Chinese authorities.
However, Joyce felt most people didn’t know how much data was being shared which included, according the WSJ, “phone numbers, email addresses and messages between users and the company.”
“We are committed to being transparent with our community, and clearly disclose our data policies to all of our hosts and guests by displaying a clear message to users when they are on the platform and through multiple other notifications,” Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, told the paper.
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When reached for comment, Joyce told the WSJ “he had a ‘difference in values’ with Airbnb” and declined any further comment.
According to the paper, Chinese officials asked for more data in the summer of last year — specifically requesting “real-time data” which would alert them to when someone first books a property. This alarmed Joyce, who “worried such data-sharing would enable Chinese government surveillance and put members of minority ethnic groups such as repressed Muslim-majority Uighurs at risk.”
Joyce raised the alarm with Chief Executive Brian Chesky and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk, who leads Airbnb’s China unit, to which Blecharczyk reportedly said, “We’re not here to promote American values” — prompting Joyce to resign.
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