The PR debacle surrounding Airbnb is in full swing. Stories are coming out of the woodwork re: people who have put up their places for rent only to have them trashed and violated. Hopefully the team at Airbnb can power through this, improve, and more importantly, continue operating this game changing service. Online fraud and abuse have been around virtually as long as the Internet has been commercially available. I remember being scammed on an e-commerce site back in 1996 (was buying a 28.8 modem for 50% off retail... should have known it was too good to be true). Unfortunately any service that starts getting popular will attract people who will attempt to exploit it.
In my opinion, Airbnb is NOT liable for the damages caused to these homeowners. They are just a marketplace where two parties meet to conduct business. Much the same way I don't hold eBay liable should someone scam me on an auction. The marketplace should provide tools and tips to assist me in vetting the people I choose to do business with but other than that, there's nothing else they are required to do. I'm a consenting adult entering into an arrangement with another consenting adult. Still, Airbnb will take the heat for this because they are caught up in a perfect storm of sympathy for the wronged, some PR gaffs on their part, and the hype that was created by their recent funding and billion dollar valuation. I hope some good will come out of this in the form of increased vigilance on the part of Airbnb customers and maybe some new tools that will help people vet and certify good renters.
On a side note, it's pretty amazing the level of trust this new generation of "social networkers" have shown in all facets of their lives. Not just the willingness to share many details of their lives with complete strangers but also feeling as if renting out their primary residence to complete strangers is a normal thing. Personally, I would NEVER rent out my home to anyone. Call me old-fashioned but there are still somethings that should be off-limits.