Legendary venture capitalists Ron Conway and Fred Wilson kicked off TechCrunch Disrupt NY on Monday morning.
In a talk moderated by TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler, the two venture capitalists talked about government regulation of tech companies like Airbnb, and how tech can have an impact on philanthropy and local community.
In San Francisco, a group called Share Better SF — composed of residents, housing activists, and neighbourhood organisations — is trying to get a measure on the ballot in November to put a cap on vacation rentals at 75 nights per year. Hosts would receive steep fines for not complying with the rules, should they be made law.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Wilson and Conway seem to view the measure as anti-innovation. “The notion that Airbnb is part of the problem is false. It’s just a part of the argument from people who don’t understand the sharing economy,” Conway said. “Why should the government be involved in that?”
The new measure, were it to be passed, would potentially be a threat to Airbnb’s business model. In the face of government regulation, Conway and Wilson had different opinions on whether a company like Airbnb should hand over anonymized data about users to try assuaging governments.
“Private companies should not be forced to hand over data about their users,” Conway said.
But Wilson disagreed, saying that there’s a limit to what companies can do without violating the trust they have with their users, but the more that companies like Airbnb can be up front with anonymized data without outing any specific user, the better.
“If they did hand over the data they could resolve a lot of concerns. Companies could use data to make clear that the fears are unfounded,” he said. “I would encourage companies to share data as much as possible.”
Airbnb initially fought a subpoena issued by the New York attorney general last May. The company ended up anonymizing and submitting data about its New York City rentals. In October, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released a report called “Airbnb in the city.” In it, he concluded that 72%, or more than 25,000 of short-term rentals through Airbnb seem to violate New York zoning regulations and other laws.
Other big-name tech companies, like Slack, have released transparency reports without prompting. In a blog post Sunday, Slack’s vice president of people, policy and compliance, Anne Toth said: “Hard as it is to believe, to date Slack has not received a single request for user data or a single content removal request.”
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