Have you stayed in illegal Airbnb lodgings? Nearly 90 percent listings in Taipei Metropolis illegal
Entry type: Single project
Publishing organisation: Central News Agency
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-09-30
Authors: Lee Yi-tien, Chien Yi-hui, Yang Wen-ting, Chiu Po-kang
The Central News Agency launched its Media Lab in July 2018 to cope with new challenges that come with the digital era. Since then, the lab has released special reports which are often experimental in nature, examples of innovative technologies being applied to the media industry.
The Airbnb website has many low-priced and distinctive listings. However, in Taipei City and New Taipei City, nearly 90% of the listings are illegal. Some of these listings have also become a breeding ground for criminal industries such as sex and gambling. However, as Taiwan’s tourism market is not large enough, the government is unable to push for specialized laws or effectively collaborate with the Airbnb platform to take down illegal listings.
Our project aims to raise awareness among consumers about the high proportion of illegal accommodations on Airbnb and the risks of unlicensed accommodations, such as carbon monoxide poisoning and consumer disputes. Through our dialogues with government inspection agencies and data analysis, we have also pinpointed the types of listings that fall into legal gray areas, so that governments can develop effective control measures for diverse types of listings.
For short-term rental businesses and governments, there has been little progress in communication with the Airbnb platform in recent years. After the project was released, Airbnb issued a statement saying that it will work with government agencies and relevant departments to establish clear, fair, and reasonable standards for the management of short-term rentals.
We used Python to scrape data from Airbnb listings in Taipei and New Taipei cities, comparing the latitude and longitude, names, descriptions, and minimum rental periods to the legal addresses and information of accommodations in the region that were published by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. We then excluded legal monthly rentals with a minimum rental period of one month, compiling a list of legal and illegal listings. Finally, we used the latitude and longitude data of the listings to create a map for the cover of the report using Python.
Context about the project:
This project was re-posted by illegal accommodation businesses on private social media groups. The Chief of the Taipei City Department of Information and Tourism, who was originally a named source, was doxed and received online threats. His name was subsequently taken off the report. In terms of data collection, some accommodations have applied for temporary suspension of business to officials but have not been removed from the Airbnb website, so it cannot be confirmed whether the data was out-of-date or the accommodation has continued to operate illegally. Therefore, we repeatedly verified the data with government inspection agencies to ensure data is completely accurate.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
Through web scraping techniques and data comparison, we present the locations of short-term rental apartments throughout Taipei and New Taipei city, as well as the ratio of legal status among these apartments. Thereby, we urge the local governments to address the safety issues that may arise. This data collection of Airbnb listings and its comparison with government-announced lists can also be applied to other industries that may be involved in illegal operations, such as rental housing or factories.