Hospitality portals: using accommodation safely

Daniel Hofer, the co-founder of CS made the point in front of a small audience at the Berkman Center (April 2009): “You can not be for sure. If anyone says: Can you guarantee that couchsurfing is safe? I say no – absolutely not! There is no guarantee at all.”

First of all let us clearly emphasize: as a community portal is as safe in technical and privacy security matters as it can be in terms of what the core team is capable to do in programming and financial issues. On the other hand, the idea of ‘free peer to peer lodging’ – as practiced by CS or -  is some sort of ‘life style  traveling’ that only can be safe if everybody take care for himself !

What does ‘safety’ actually mean?

In many people minds’ would be at 100% safe if the portal guarantees the identity of a member by validating his name, gender, address, date of birth, social reliability and so on. This idea requires some sort of real life face 2 face validation, whenever and where-ever… To speak frankly, a dream would come true, indeed, but it is only a dream and not manageable out in this world at all.  As in any other portal in the world wide web doesn’t want their members to go such a hard and rocky way…

What about “ebay stars”?

Correct – something like a rating or feedback system should be in place. So it is already: we only call it guest-book (check out  >> Member Navigation >> Your Profile >> Guest-book).  We promise to bring up this ‘feature of trust’ in our next news(letter) and other communication media to make members using it more frequently.

But let’s come back to the subject ‘ebay stars’… Did you hear about the big trouble ebay has with its “star-system”? We call it “feedback farms”. You create i.e. 10 user accounts for yourself with the objective of rating yourself via these accounts… is this fair?
But yes …. we are still “brainstorming” about that subject. Any suggestion or discussion is always helpful. Just post it here – it does not hurt. members are pleased to use the discussion forums (more convenient discussion functionality) on the portal. Thanks a lot for your understanding!

What about “personal references”?

One member can mark another member as “reliable” by knowing this person personally, face 2 face, in real life. This can only be done by members already marked 3 times themselves. Sounds great – doesn’t it? Only it has to take-off somehow, that’s why the core team would start  to mark several members as trustworthy. As a result a sort of pyramid system would emerge…

So how about people who are not living in big cities? They will never get marked when they do not meet already marked members in real life. They will never have the chance to take part in this ‘pyramid of trust’. Furthermore: in theory this “pyramid” system implies that the core team would guarantees for each single marked person’s  reliability (also in 1000th level). And – if only one person is marks another one without knowing  – all further levels would be rather unconfident and the system would be cannibalized by itself. Such we would affect a system of pseudo safety which is not given…

What about credit card verification?

First of all what kind of information does a credit card showing to us? A name – nothing more. No address, no gender, no age (it looks like the “member” is at a “legal” age). But do we know, if the holder of a credit card is at the same time the ‘owner’ of the credit card? Not really!

Second: Who has a credit card? It’s not only a question of financial wealth or culture. For example in the Netherlands only a very small number of people have credit cards. Or how about students – in many countries it’s hard to open a bank account or getting a credit card without any regular income.

Third: If you still think that makes sense: Only 5.6% of all CS users are so called “verified” by help of their credit cards.

Postal verfification?

You tell us your name and address. After that you can not change your address anymore. We send you a code via snail mail. You have to enter this code on the website.

This seems to be the most promising solution (except age and gender). The technical process can be set up within a 2-4 period. But if we grow like we do right know the expenses for this process would be too expensive. As long we have no sponsor for these costs we would be obliged to charge each single member. And we would end up in a an enormous credit card verification task…

And very important: What does an address verification telling us? Only that this address is existing! And this only in a very small time frame. Some time later the letter box is maybe gone – but the member would be still verified and using the ‘free lodging’ services by without any obstacles…

Other financial based verification solutions?

We know – especially country based – that there are many other solutions and tools around to validate an online user. Whereas the main reason for such systems is not to validate the identity from “USER” to “WEBSITE” (for Shops, Tools, Games etc.) but to make financial transactions (except of online Banking). If the money is coming in – ok – we send the book. For buying a book online the identity is not THAT important for the safety of your live. But here we talk about the identity from “USER” to “USER”.

What about privacy?

Last but not least we do not want to be portal number XYZ where you have to host your identity data. Maybe you are up-to-date concerning all risks and discussions currently flying around. The goal is to provide a fast and simple way to get in touch with each other for a better way of traveling… We do not want to be Facebook Number XYZ.


For sure – all these processes mentioned above can make it harder to fraud the system or your personal trust. But on the other hand – if we employ them – you will believe you are ‘safer’! At the end – you take less care of yourself. The person who really is willing to fool you has a much higher chance to be “successful”.

With this situation – we are not still sure – if we should offer one of the tools – or not. We are waiting for your input. If the community wishes to have such features in place – you will get them!

There is help around!

On the other hand we will provide you with more and more check lists for your safety. Just follow the guidelines. But hey – its still an adventure, a fascinating way of getting in touch, making the world smaller, getting to know other cultures, fullfilling another goal of the so called “globalization”.

Pending and coming soon this month: Safety checklist for all, Safety checklist for the guest, Safety checklist for the host,  How to request an accommodation? How to be a good guest? How to be a great host?

Feel free to comment this article. And members of – take part in the disussion on

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anja on May 11, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Hi there,

    thank you very much for this well written explanation! I look forward to see the other guidelines. Its a kind of thrilling to see how this will processing in the future.

    regards and thx for the great work


  2. [...] a look at the general statement about safety in hospitality networks. VN:F [1.3.0_631]please wait…Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes [...]


  3. [...] Read the general statement about safety in hospitality networks. [...]


  4. [...] Safety – Checklist for hosts and guests Hospitality portals: Safety for using accommodation [...]


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