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How easy is it to find an Airbnb address?

With the upcoming by-law to license short-term stays, there’s been a lot of chatter about the topic online. Recently, the city even released a statement addressing some of the speculation about address-finding and explaining some of the rational behind the choice of a contract with a data-finding company. With both the city and Kingston Accommodation Partners selecting the same company and the city insisting that the company is only using public data, I wondered: Just how easy is it to find the address of an Airbnb location in Kingston?

Background and parameters

I’ve worked in tourism. I’ve stayed in Airbnbs friends have booked (I’ve yet to book one myself) and I’ve browsed the site multiple times. Airbnb, in its getting started pages for hosts says “Your listing’s address will only be shown to guests with a confirmed reservation. In public search results, we only show an approximate location for your listing.” With this in mind, I set up some basic guidelines:

  1. I’ve got 5 traveller profiles in mind and would try to find each of them a place to stay.
  2. My search would be done from a private browsing window to avoid my own history interfering with the search. No logging into Airbnb.
  3. I searched for rooms or units available for one night, March 11 (1 month in the future), for one guest and only browsed for superhosts. My search was simply for “Kingston, ON.”
  4. I browsed listing using map view, focusing on an area of the city that would match my traveller profile.
  5. I’d look over listings and pick something that sounded appealing or charming to me and matched the profile of the traveller I had in mind. I wasn’t picky about if it was a room or an entire residence, though I did ensure the primary photo wasn’t showing a house number – I didn’t want this to be too easy.
  6. Once I clicked on a listing, I’d have 15 minutes to read it, look through its photos and see if I could pinpoint an address. Once I picked my location, no turning back.
  7. I’m allowed to use any public resource, Google Maps, KMaps and Google street view included.
  8. In keeping with the statement from the city, my focus will be on the address, not the hosts.

Search #1: Heart of the City

When I travel, I like staying right next to a downtown. I love the hustle and bustle, being close to nightlife and popular attractions, but usually just far enough that it can be relaxing. This profile was, essentially, me — so I picked the first listing on my search that said ‘Limestone.’

A map of the downtown area from the AirBNB website. Captured on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

My first pick gave me exactly what I was looking for: a picture of the front of the house, street number included. The Airbnb map showed the location as Johnson Street between King Street East and Wellington Street, I dropped my street view search at Wellington and William streets to give me more residential. I clicked around, ‘walking’ along Wellington, then Earl, then King Street before finding the matching location on William. Location found in 4 minutes, 23 seconds.

Search #2: Traveling professional

For my second search, I pictured a professional coming into the city for a few weeks. I wanted something close to downtown or Queen’s University, but not right in the core. My selections in my search area were a little more sparse, but the one that said “Presidential Suite” caught my eye and I clicked it before I realized how many bedrooms it had.

A map of the area used for my second search from the AirBNB website. Captured on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Once again, it didn’t take long to browse the pictures and find the front of the house and a street number. This time, the map showed a location on Oakridge Avenue, near Johnson Street. I dropped my street view search onto the location, moved towards Johnson and had planned to search down Gibson Avenue, thinking it was my more likely candidate. When I turned right onto Johnson, though, I spotted the bushes shown in the listing and matched the address. Location found in 3 minutes, 47 seconds.

Search #3: Frequent flyer

Next, I was wanting something near the airport. I thought someone flying in may not know the distance between the airport and other Kingston amenities and that a location near where they fly in might be preferred. I picked the one with a picture of a beachfront that promised me the choice between a peaceful sunrise or sunset. 

A map of the area near Norman Rogers Airport from the AirBNB website. Captured on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Yet again, a house number was clearly visible in a photo, though the house was far more zoomed in this time, so it was tougher to see distinct features. AirBNB showed me a location on Barnsley Crescent near Acadia Drive, and I was, admittedly, nervous that suburbia would prove a bigger challenge than downtown. I didn’t even have to leave Barnsley Cresent to match the number from the photo, though. Location found in 2 minutes, 16 seconds.

Search #4: East-side traveller

I envisioned a traveller here for RMC or CFB Kingston who might find it convenient not needing to cross the Causeway on a regular basis. With my map focused on Greenwood Park, a listing with a unique front door and brickwork stood out first. While tempting to keep my streak up, the primary photo broke my guidelines, so I chose one that offered breakfast instead.

A map of Greenwood Park from the AirBNB website. Captured on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Airbnb offered me the corner of Greenwood Park Drive and Rainbow Crescent. I did get a photo of the exterior, but I had no street number for the first time. I dropped my pin on Google Maps and went walking. As my timer hit 8 minutes, and with no sign of my house, I thought I’d try a different approach and took to Google’s satellite view to try to match the distinct shape of the front windows. With the history that the Airbnb suggested location has not been far, I kept my search focused north of Rose Abbey Drive and Martha Street. While I found lots of houses that were clearly the same builder model, none of the brickwork, windows or front steps matched my photo before my timer went off. Location not found within 15 minutes.

Search #5: Highway rest

For my last search, I wanted to stay close to the highway and pictured someone pulling off for a rest on a long trip. I took my search to the north-west of the city, both to balance my eastern search and also to include the Invista Centre in case, maybe, my traveller was someone interested in sports and hockey. I chose the one closest to Highway 401. 

A map of the north-west area of urban Kingston from the AirBNB website. Captured on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

I was hopeful after seeing two exterior photos that I’d have a chance — but with no street address visible and the Airbnb pin located not on a street but between Sierra Avenue and Birchwood Drive, I was nervous. I started this search at Sierra Avenue and Pearl Road, looping east along Sierra before looking along parts of Frank Street, Birchwood Drive, Pearl Road and Grace Avenue. In keeping with the thought that the suggested pin location from AirBNB shouldn’t be too far, I kept north of the greenspace below Sierra Avenue. I was working my way along Hanover Drive when my timer beeped. Location not found within 15 minutes.

Conclusion

Using only public Airbnb photos, Google Maps, and a little time, I was easily able to identify the exact address of 3 properties — each in under 5 minutes — and while two properties went unlocated, I think I could have found them, too, if I hadn’t restricted my time. A machine learning algorithm would have made my search far easier, too. A list of “houses within 500m of the Airbnb pin made of dark red brick” could easily be generated with some AI and street view imagery, for example, and would have dramatically lowered the locations I was checking manually.

My searches were done without looking at (or caring about) who the hosts were, visiting the locations, making bookings or even signing into an Airbnb account — just as the city expects its proposed data partner to do. They were done without the use of AI to narrow down my field. They were done with public data, street view images, and a couple of maps.

So, just how easy is it to find the address of an Airbnb location in Kingston using only public data? Turns out, it’s not hard at all.

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8 thoughts on “How easy is it to find an Airbnb address?

  • February 19, 2020 at 8:35 am
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    Even easier is asking AirBnB to collect and remit the tax — which it will do at zero cost to the city or to KAP, monthly, and with 100% accuracy. Or, like any other licensed business, we could have the owners remit the tax based on their actual earnings, not speculation based on a 5-minute view (to use your limit) of an availability calendar that includes “blocked” dates for vacations, repairs, family use, etc. and does not reveal the variable nightly rates.
    No business is pre-assessed on its tax collection and forced to defend the speculative assessment in court. This practice should not start. If the city wants to license these home businesses, they should stick to their established methods. These home businesses have broken no laws, have expressed an overwhelming desire to comply —with more than 1/6 of operators attending a city committee meeting — and have shown how easy and cost free compliance with the MAT can be. This proposal is unnecessary surveillance and treating law-abiding citizens like crooks.

  • February 19, 2020 at 8:44 am
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    Address yes but accuracy of when it is booked is the issue.
    And can you tell me which unit in a condo, student residence building all summer. Nope. Didn’t think so.

  • February 19, 2020 at 8:59 am
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    Is the author still a hotel employee (manager)? Since it is the hotel association (KAP) that is contracting the surveillance company whose methods this article is defending, does that not constitute poor journalistic integrity, to say the least?
    Will the other MAT collectors (hotels) be pre-assessed their tax collected based on availability calendars and guessed $ rates rather actual bookkeeping?

    • February 19, 2020 at 11:47 am
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      Hi there,
      The writer, Tommy Vallier, does not work for any hotels or tourism agencies. He has in the past, however.
      Hope that clears that up!
      -Tori

  • February 19, 2020 at 10:25 am
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    Kingston Accommodation Partners board are the biggest hoteliers in Kingston. Who owns the Kingstonians? No mention of Host Compliance being a US company subject to the patriot act. No mention of all the other data that will be collecting in the US including names and addresses. No mention of Canadian privacy laws.
    This article is exactly why all Kingstonians should be worried. I am no fan of Airbnb but use it. This technology can be applied to student housing and eventually all data collection by the city and be in the hands of the US government. It is not harmless as this article implies. This is a classic case of weaponizing data for a specific function. This article is only part of the story.

  • February 19, 2020 at 11:59 am
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    Congratulations on your well-thought-out experiment in how to get around Airbnb’s privacy protections for its hosts. Reading your article in tandem with Vice.com’s investigative journalism on how Host Compliance finds addresses, you’ve probably nailed their methodology. What the City’s press release ignores, however, is the more fundamental question of whether contracting with Host Compliance is ethical. Their methodology is based on hiring “independent” contractors on Amazon Mechanical Turk to create phony accounts on the Airbnb website to do what you did for the explicit purpose of violating a legally binding terms of service contract with Airbnb, which includes having agreed that “you will not and will not assist or enable others to…copy, store or otherwise access or use any information, including personally identifiable information about any other Member, contained on the Airbnb Platform in any way that is inconsistent with Airbnb’s Privacy Policy or these Terms or that otherwise violates the privacy rights of Members or third parties”. While the City would likely be protected from legal penalties as a result of the complex web of inter-jurisdictional indirection between them and the “contractors”, I believe that most Kingstonians would consider using their tax money to fund fraudulent activities to be unethical.

  • February 19, 2020 at 12:22 pm
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    The author is linked to the city. Kedco, Tourism Kingston and hotels etc. no surprise there. This will not be posted by him.

    • February 19, 2020 at 12:26 pm
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      Tommy has worked for all of those entities in the past. He does not currently work for any of them. While I can see why his past employment is somewhat relevant to the topic, all he is trying to explain in this article is that locating addresses of Airbnb locations isn’t very difficult — his past employment is not relevant to doing so.
      -Tori

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