Three guys who refuse to answer for sleazy spam tactics on behalf of their startup might expect to be shunned. Circumstances being what they are, the same three guys are bathing in money and adulation.
Airbnb just raised $112 million from venture capitalists who valued the vacation rental website at $1.3 billion. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and investment firms Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst apparently weren't too concerned about how Airbnb's minions pretended to be unaffiliated Gmail users and spammed people listing homes on competitor Craigslist, including people who specifically opted out of commercial offers. And they apparently weren't too worried about whether the email campaign on behalf of Airbnb violated the federal CAN-SPAN act, which bars email ads that are not labeled as ads and which fail to identify the originating business in the header. Airbnb admitted to the sleazy spam but blamed it on rogue salesmen hired under contract, whom Airbnb implausibly claimed to have instructed to sell "person to person" rather than via Craigslist — at least according to anonymous leaks quoted on tech industry blogs; Airbnb has yet to officially address the issue, although it found time to write 29 corporate blog posts on other topics since the scandal broke and to participate in a New York Times profile that of course makes no mention of the shady tactics.
The thing is, these aren't three ordinary shady operators. One of them went to Harvard, all graduated from the elite tech incubator Y Combinator, and important people like venture capitalist Fred Wilson and startup adviser Paul Graham are terribly impressed with them and their idea. No one wants to hold them accountable for the behavior of their paid agents, or ask what use these contract salesmen would be if they weren't spamming Craigslist users. People would rather get rich. While the rest of us can have out wealth seized at the whim of large corporations, these guys play by different rules, just like sleazeball videogame pimp Mark Pincus (fabulously wealthy), sleazeball computer hacker Mark Zuckerberg (ditto), and any number of other current and former tech sleazeballs, like officially decreed monopolist bastard Bill Gates, now a quite likable philanthropist. Maybe once the AirBnb guys are done building their fortunes and hiring fringe operatives, they will do something to make us dumb, poor users like them, too.
[Image via Airbnb]