Kazan developers poach offended customers of Airbnb using the ''gay locator''

The advertising service that helps to find LGBT people in the Russian cities is at the centre of the scandal

Kazan developers poach offended customers of Airbnb using the ''gay locator'' Photo: facebook.com

The serious scandal of federal scale has broken around the service to determine the number of homosexual people in the Russian cities — Gay Locator, developed by a Kazan company. The Russian LGBT community has already demanded to ban the website, which, according to them, insults sexual minorities. Realnoe Vremya contacted the head of MyLinker service, whose advertising project is a ''homophobic search engine'', Svetlana Novikova, who talked about how, who and why needs this resource, whether it offends sexual minorities, and whether the developers are going to stop the project after numerous complaints.

''People interpreted the project more as a game, as a joke''

Svetlana, how did you come up with the idea to create such search engine? What are the aims of this project?

When we created the website MyLinker (it is the website of daily rent), we were inspired by the example of well-known foreign online resource Airbnb. At the time (it was two years ago), their philosophy was the following: receive guests, including at home, meet new people, expand the boundaries of the world and, at the same time, earn money on that. It is the so-called economy of collaborative consumption. They were declaring a very nice approach there: hosts set all the requirements for living by themselves. They had the section ''house rules''.

In November 2016, they made changes to their user agreement, and they imposed stringent requirements: if a host does not want for any reason to receive any person on the basis of sex, age, nationality, religion, and especially… How to say this… Particularly, with regard to gender identity and orientation. These hosts have no place on their website, so they are forced to block them.

This topic bothered us because many hosts, including those with whom we cooperate, are very scrupulous about a selection of guests: whom to accept and whom not to. It is not always associated with sexual orientation. It is clear that not everyone is willing to rent their apartment for parties, to football fans, families with babies (many hotels do not even allow children under 4), people with pets. The hosts have every right not to receive guests of non-traditional sexual orientation: everyone decides for themselves.

We launched on January 23, in the afternoon, and now I can't say what the traffic is, but it exponentially increases: on the first day, it was 5.000, on the second day – 10.000, and yesterday — about 50.000 unique visitors per day

In a friendly conversation, we talked about how this problem is important for Russia in general, given the fact that our society encourages the traditional sexual behaviour. Half jokingly, half seriously we came up with this idea, with the locator. Frankly speaking, we did not expect such response, but, nevertheless, it appeared.

If you don't mind me asking, what is the traffic of your website?

We started on January 23, in the afternoon, and now I can't say what the traffic is, but it exponentially increases: on the first day, it was 5.000, on the second day – 10.000, and yesterday — about 50.000 unique visitors per day.

What is the practical benefit of the resource?

The usefulness, from our point of view, is that we encourage people to leave their contact information. If people do that, we provide a discount on accommodation. For us, this is a practical benefit. The practical benefit directly to those who provided tens of thousands of visits on this resource, probably, to just… To be honest, in relation to some cities I have an impression that people simply interpreted the project more as a game, as a joke.

''We do not claim 100 percent accuracy, reliability''

Is it correct to call your service just an advertising project?

It is more of a research project, to which we added some meaning for the main service. People can like the formula which is used to calculate or nor, but there are no limitations on this topic. Given the fact that we applied in the calculation a number of requests for keyword ''gay porn'', we received a number of responses, when indignant girls said to us: ''Don't you know that women also watch gay porn?''. We did not!

Could you tell us more details about the methodology?

It calculates the ratio of a number of residents to a number queries ''porn'' and ''gay porn'' in a region.

''You know how the service Wordstat works, which calculates the number of queries: it takes data over the past month. It is clear that there can be some fluctuations''

Do you think this method is accurate?

Well, of course, it can be inaccurate, but in my opinion, any statistical calculation methods always contain uncertainty. For example, it is clear how to count the birth rate, the divorce rate, but here we are solely guided by assumptions. We do not claim 100 percent accuracy, reliability and some expert opinion in this area.

You know how Wordstat service works, which calculates a number of queries: it takes data over the past month. It is clear that there can be some fluctuations. Of course, the service allows certain deviations, as any information obtained by estimations and not empirically.

''Nationality is something inherent in us by nature, but in this case, we are talking about patterns of behaviour…''

What do you think about the negative reaction to the launch of this service? You are accused of homophobic marketing at least.

Clearly, in any case, we do not want our actions have been construed as a bad gesture towards people of different sexual orientation. We did not want to offend anybody, but we did. As we see in the comments, publications in the Internet media, the majority has taken it as we expected: as a risky PR campaign.

We all believe in our team, it is clear that people with non-traditional sexual orientation should enjoy the same civil rights. There should not be infringements in any case. In any case, there should not be any appeals to physical or emotional violence against such people. But still, as I have said, this behaviour, in my opinion, in the opinion of the team, is not encouraged in our society and is not a good example in general.

Well, this can be treated in any way, and our personal opinion is that nature still provides heterosexuality of a person. Of course, we are not talking about infringement of the civil rights. We are talking about that people should consciously make the decision concerning such issues, as well as whether to rent their houses or not to. Whether to communicate with such people or not, including those who openly declare their different sexual orientation. One should not confuse tolerance with advertising and public promotion of homosexuality.

''Clearly, in any case we do not want our actions have been construed as a bad gesture towards people of different sexual orientation. We did not want to offend anybody, but we did.'' Photo: vladtime.ru

So, you do not think that this resource infringes on the rights of sexual minorities or offends them, do you?

In what way does it infringe on their rights?

Look, if there was, for example, a Tatar Locator, I would undoubtedly be offended.

But there is no such resource! For example, I am Russian but I was born and raised in Kazan… Let's not start national themes. Do not equate the difference by nationality… We will never create such locator because we consider this division unacceptable. Nationality is something inherent in us by nature, but in this case, we are talking about a pattern of behaviour.

Can a sexual orientation really be a conscious choice?

You know, there is no a 100 percent answer to this question: whether it is inherent by nature or it can be raised or accepted under the influence of fashion and, relatively speaking, a bad company.

Svetlana, are you planning to close the website after the controversial reaction of the users? Perhaps, to undertake some other measures?

We are taking some measures, but they are associated exclusively with the activities of the primary resource. The locator, in this case, is not an end in itself. It's just a tool. We received a reaction. What do you mean ''to close''? I think in a week or two this topic will be replaced by some other. We do not have a goal to improve the calculation algorithm to the point that we would have an uncertainty of up to 0.01 percent. It's just the request to the society about how important this issue is and whether it bothers somebody in Russia in reality or not. There is no need to look for some very complex implications.

By Lina Sarimova