Airbnb Hires ChangeCoin's Team in Possible Identity Play

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Airbnb, the company that disrupted the hospitality industry as Uber did to taxis, is sidling up to the fintech space.

The San Francisco company, which allows people to rent spare rooms in their homes to travelers, has acquihired a team of bitcoin and blockchain experts from the micropayments startup ChangeCoin.

ChangeCoin, a Bitcoin-based micropayments platform, supports payments on Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Reddit, Github and Tumblr through its ChangeTip platform. Other companies, such as Patreon, also prefer to work directly with the sites' users rather than try to integrate with each platform.

App companies like Airbnb and Uber are having a profound impact on the payments industry by cutting down on the steps required or order and pay for services. Airbnb, whose user base passed 17 million last summer, is bringing over the majority of ChangeCoin’s staff to join its engineering team and work on building its infrastructure, a spokeswoman for Airbnbconfirmed Wednesday. She did not disclose terms of the deal or indicate how many employees are affected.

ChangeCoin did not return a request for comment. It has raised $5 million in venture capital since its inception in 2014.

"We are thrilled to bring some members of the ChangeTip team on as a part of Airbnb," the spokeswoman said. "We are not acquiring the assets of the company, nor do we have any plans to incorporate bitcoin into the AirBnB ecosystem."

Airbnb's motivation for recruiting the team is unclear, but it may have to do with using blockchain technology to build identity and reputation systems. Trust is an increasingly important issue for companies in the sharing economy; Airbnb hosts, for example, are welcoming strangers into their homes. In 2013 Airbnb introduced Verified ID, a service to increase the trust in new guest accounts that didn't have recommendations. Today it offers eight ways to verify identity.

The company has been exploring other bitcoin and blockchain companies, according to the news site Quartz, which first reported the hiring. Blockchain technology could help Airbnb build a single identity verification system for its network of hosts and guests and improve transparency about their identities, engagement and transactions — goals that its co-founder, Nathan Blecharczyk, spoke about in general terms last month.

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