Somewhere around 1:00 am yesterday, my Airbnb.com horror story was picked up by Hacker News; to say this story has gone viral in the past two days would be the understatement of my life. I sit here now, taken aback and utterly astounded as I witness the internet in action, and watch my own story unfold across the Web, and across the world.
Yet as I read through the numerous websites, blog posts, news articles, reader comments and the recent statements made by representatives of Airbnb, I am struck by how much is being misconstrued from and stated about my story, and by the impressive number of doubters out there who are questioning the validity of my story – even the validity of my existence.
I recognize that my silence thus far has perhaps fed this storm, and I am sorry for that. But I have not written anything new on the subject in the past month for one simple reason: fear.
I was - and still am - scared of the unsettling fact that there are still psychotic criminals and identity thieves on the loose who already know much too much about me.
I was - and still am - scared of saying something that could jeopardize the ongoing criminal investigation.
And I was - but no longer am - scared of Airbnb’s reaction, the pressure and the veiled threat I have received from them since I initially blogged this story.
Ironic that my own tag line reads “I leap, the net appears”. Fear has never gotten me anywhere, and there is so much more that I need to say - and that you have every right to know. So here goes.
First, I want to clarify a few things I have read online, and address some of the falsehoods that have been directed toward me and my situation:
1. I have released no photographs related to the burglary. Any photos that have been used in the various articles and posts online are not photos of my apartment.
2. Other than occasionally sharing the link to my blog, I have made no statements to nor have I been interviewed by the press - yet. Any references to me, the burglary or my current situation thus far have been construed directly from my original blog post by the respective author(s).
3. I do exist. I am a real person using a nickname my parents stuck me with long ago. I do not work for the hotel industry, though I admit I love a Four Seasons as much as the next girl. Oh and on that note, I am female.
Next, I would like to address the article written by Airbnb founder Brian Chesky, published on TechCrunch on July 27, and provide the following clarifications. Quotes in bold are taken directly from Chesky’s article.
“On June 22nd, we learned that the home of one of our San Francisco hosts was vandalized by an Airbnb guest.”
Based on the delay in their response time, I have reason to believe that Airbnb did not learn of my situation until June 23rd.
“While we are not at liberty to discuss the details during the investigation, we understand that with our help, a suspect is now in custody, and our information will now become important evidence.”
As of today, July 28, I have received no confirmation from either the San Francisco Police Department or the District Attorney that any culprit is in custody for my case. One month ago an individual was apprehended, however as far as I know, this person was transferred to a neighboring jurisdiction for prosecution of previous crimes, and no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case within San Francisco County. If this has changed and Chesky’s statement is in fact true, I have not been made aware by city officials.
Word of caution to my fellow Bay Area residents: I have reason to believe that there were multiple people involved in the burglary of my home, not just one culprit. Take heed and be careful.
“We have been in close contact with her ever since, and have worked with the authorities to help find a resolution.”
If the “her” he is referring to is me, then the first part of this statement is false (the second I cannot attest to). During the first week of my nightmare, the customer service team at Airbnb was - as I stated in my June 29 blog post – helpful, caring and supportive. In particular, one customer service manager - and the company’s freelance photographer - were wonderfully kind to me, and both should know how grateful I am.
On June 29 I posted my story, and June 30 thus marks the last day I heard from the customer service team regarding my situation. In fact, my appointed “liaison” from Airbnb stopped contacting me altogether just three days after I reported the crime, on June 25, for reasons that are unknown to me. I have heard nothing from her since.
I blogged my story, and all these kind and supportive people just ... disappeared.
And since June 30? On this same day, I received a personal call from one of the co-founders of Airbnb. We had a lengthy conversation, in which he indicated having knowledge of the (previously mentioned) person who had been apprehended by the police, but that he could not discuss the details or these previous cases with me, as the investigation was ongoing. He then addressed his concerns about my blog post, and the potentially negative impact it could have on his company’s growth and current round of funding. During this call and in messages thereafter, he requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a “twist" of good news so as to “complete[s] the story”.
Since June 30, this co-founder has been the only person at Airbnb from whom I have received occasional contact regarding my situation, his messages directed primarily at my blog post and its activity on Twitter. (Note: a second co-founder did email me for the first time around 2am yesterday, suggesting we meet for coffee as he “would enjoy meeting” me. He made no inquiry into my current emotional state, my safety or my well being.)
I have never met in person anyone from Airbnb. And I have not had any communication whatsoever with Brian Chesky.
“Once our host’s safety was secured, our attention moved to further strengthening our system.”
I am not clear here if Chesky is trying to convey the message that Airbnb was involved in securing my safety, but the company was not. My safety was secured by my own efforts. I arranged alternate accommodations, in the safety of a friend’s home. I arranged and paid for my own transportation while dislocated (with Airbnb's assurances that this expense would be compensated - which it has not been). I contacted the police, and insisted on a visit from CSI to dust for prints. I called a locksmith and had my locks changed.
I alone have spent hours on the phone with banks and credit bureaus, securing my identity, credit cards and bank accounts. I alone have spent hours with DAs, Victims Services and SFPD, trying to learn what I need to do to protect myself. It was suggested to me by the DA’s office that I seek restraining orders and do whatever I needed to do to ensure my own safety. I have been doing so ever since. Airbnb has not assisted me in securing my safety, if that is the implication being made in Chesky's article.
“We are upset that this happened but believe that our platform and staff were able to make a positive contribution to this unfortunate case”
The positive contribution mentioned in this statement might very well refer to the criminal investigation and communication with police; I can’t know for sure. But the staff at Airbnb has not made a positive contribution to me personally or my situation in any way, particularly since June 30.
Look, despite what some of you are saying, I am not an idiot. I understand why Airbnb called me and asked me to bring this story to an end; it is in their best profitable interest to do so. Unfortunately for me – 5 weeks and counting – there is no end in sight. Too much about this case remains unknown and unresolved, and according to both the District Attorneys and the police, it could be many more months before the criminal investigation moves forward.
In the meantime, I am still displaced, bouncing between friends’ homes, clutching my pillow and what’s left of my normalcy. I spend my mornings recalling nightmares and breathing through panic attacks, and my afternoons scouring the city’s pawn shops in the vain hope that I might recover some of my stolen treasures. I do not feel anything close to safe. I do not feel anything close to whole. Today I remain broken, but with the firm belief that in time, and with the support of friends, family, and a generally supportive public, this too shall pass and I will be made whole again.
For those of you who have offered (sometimes scathing, painful) criticism, I can do nothing but respect your freedom of speech, as it’s the same freedom that has allowed my own story to be heard.
For those of you who have expressed your sympathies and support, I cannot begin to express how much your comments have meant to me. Thank you.
And for those who have so generously suggested a donation fund be set up to help me recover, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and suggest that instead, you keep the money and use it to book yourself into a nice, safe hotel room the next time you travel. You’ll be glad you did.