New York sent a message to Internet companies when it demanded access to personal information of 225,000 Airbnb user accounts, including bank account numbers and other personal data. The subpoena requires AirBnB to provide immediate access, setting a precedent for ongoing spying to police the website for users who illegally sublet their apartments. According to The Wall Street Journal‘s Allysia Finley, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has severed political ties with Netflix, Facebook, Amazon and Uber by “declaring war on the Internet community.” The legal battle continues as the hostile work environment that is New York City becomes evident.
AirBnB faces a daunting battle in the short term, where antiquated laws reflect the reality of their struggle against New York City’s powerful hotel lobby. A New York City man was fined $2,400 for renting his room out by using the website, but the fine was later reversed on a technicality. Many webmasters say the precedent demanding ongoing access to online user data is the wrong way to go about enforcing the law. They claim New York City is getting into the game of censorship, justified or not. Attention all startups: STAY OUT!
The fear is that New York and its flood of young start-ups arriving to tap urban potential may find their interests better served elsewhere, somewhere they feel protected from the prying eyes of government – all of this on the coattails of the NSA spying controversy.
But established businesses are also right to protect their interests. The L.A. Times successfully sued Free Republic to protect copyrighted articles archived illegally. More nuanced business models in travel and transportation have fended off ensconced agency models, most notably when Priceline revolutionized the reservation model starting in 1999. Uber thwarted the NYC limo lobby in April.
The minimum 14.375% hotel tax windfall is currently threatened, so Eric Schneiderman has joined the hotel lobby in a desperate attempt to ward off the ongoing shift away from temporary corporate housing (i.e., hotelling) to private housing (i.e., homestays). If he does win this battle, it’s merely his finger in the dike of a damn about to break. The wacko-a-mole inspires a website shell game, where the service springs up elsewhere.
Inside tall skyscrapers and tiny tenement buildings are bright minds watching the news. It is a unique time for the digitally creative intent on breaking down corporate monopolies in publishing, travel, transportation and real estate. New York’s webmasters can only wonder what Mayor Michael Bloomberg is thinking while hoping this hostile work environment comes to an end.