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The story that has the world asking, 'Just how safe is Airbnb?'

The story that all Airbnb users should remember when booking their next holiday.

On the fourth of July, Micaela Giles checked her phone and saw a message from her son, Jacob Lopez. He said he was locked in an apartment in Madrid and was afraid he was going to be sexually assaulted by his Airbnb host.

Ms Giles reacted as any mother would do in such a harrowing situation, and contacted Airbnb for help so that she could send police to her 19-year-old son’s location.

But Giles claims the company, which boasts world-class customer service that is available to its customers 24 hours a day on its website, refused to tell her where her son was and would not call the police.

Instead, she was instructed to call the Madrid police and ask them to contact Airbnb. But when she tried to contact Airbnb again, the calls allegedly went unanswered, going straight to voicemail.

Realising the urgency of the situation, she then tried to contact Lopez again to get the address from him so she could send help. But the host had cut off the internet connection.

Lopez says that after contacting his mother for help, he was sexually assaulted by the Airbnb host, who has since denied Lopez’s claims against her.

Telling their story to the New York Times, Giles and Lopez expressed deep concerns about the safety of Airbnb’s services that need to be addressed.

For those unfamiliar with the website, Airbnb is an example of the success of the sharing economy. It encourages ordinary people to monetise their extra space by renting out their spare bedrooms and homes when they are vacated, and currently has over 1.5 million properties listed worldwide.

airbnb horror story
Airbnb has over 1.5 million listings worldwide. Image via Airbnb.
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According to recent valuations, the startup, which was founded in 2008, is currently valued at over $25 billion.

But with so much cash at its disposal and such a large customer base, why did Airbnb not take Giles’ concerns about her son’s safety seriously? As Ron Lieber writes in the New York Times, logic and decency would suggest that when a customer says they are in danger, the company should come to their rescue.

Unfortunately, Giles’ story is not the first time an Airbnb experience has gone horribly wrong. Websites such as Airbnb Hell regularly catalog the often troubling incidences that customers have experienced, and recount tales of fraud and dangerous local rental laws that leave many guests out of pocket and out on the street.

This latest allegation in particular raises serious questions about how much the seven-year-old company values the safety and security of its 40 million customers.

Airbnb has since described Lopez’s ordeal as a “unique situation” and one where the company’s safety procedures came into conflict, with company spokesman Nick Papas claiming that the employees believed the assault had already occurred when contacted by Lopez’s mother.

In an email to the New York Times, Papas said that the company was clarifying its policies. “Safety is our No.1 priority, and we want to get our hosts and guests as much help as possible.”

After his experience in Madrid, Lopez has returned home to the United States and is now in therapy.

Airbnb have also removed the listing from its site.

Have you used Airbnb before? What do  you think of the service?

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