travel musings

I’ve Still Never Used Airbnb – Here’s Why

Airbnb has been receiving a lot of press recently, and not all of it is good. In fact, I would go as far as to say not much of it has been good at all.

I remember when Airbnb first started. Bloggers quickly began gushing about the experiences they’d had in someone’s home, and soon all eyes were on them as one of the pioneering businesses that allowed normal people to make some extra money (before Uber et al) while also saving everyone else big bucks against the hotels.

The idea of Airbnb though, was to have a local experience staying with a family, or to provide a way for people to earn a little extra income by offering people to stay in their spare room. It helped people to see a different side of the city they’re visiting, and saved them money in the process. All in all, it was a great idea – in theory.

Image credit: Airbnb

Nowadays, most people I know who use it tend to book full apartments or properties and absolutely love it. Self-catering is not a new thing though, and I quickly took issue with the fact people were making entire businesses (even empires) out of what was supposed to be supplementary income. Even existing guesthouses started advertising on Airbnb, which I thought defeated the whole point of Airbnb breaking a new market, and people who have run self-catering properties for years because they love doing it and made a genuine business out of it, were suddenly up against an unregulated gig company where people with no experience were competing with them simply for some easy money.

You could argue that encouraging some competition is always a good thing, but how is it fair that people who do this for their livelihood are up against people who only have to pay tax once they’ve let their property out for 3 months?

Regardless, I kept trying to get around to using Airbnb, because so many people swear by it that it almost seemed crazy that I hadn’t even tried it once, especially when it’s such a tried and tested way to save money.

One of the main draws for me is that it offers so many unique properties – tons of hobbit homes in the UK alone! – that you’d never find anywhere else. Windmills? They’ve got them. Boutique garden sheds? Sure. A lifeboat? Why the hell not?

So, finally, a couple of years ago we were going to a friend’s wedding, and as it was in an odd location, I hit up Airbnb – and was quickly taken aback by the prices. In fact, when you countered in service fees, it was literally cheaper to book a hotel, so that’s what we did.

Indeed, every time I’ve thought of using it since, the prices often haven’t been cheap in the first place, but the fees have almost consistently been absolutely astronomical. Case in point:

airbnb

The final price is literally almost double the initial booking cost!!

Airbnb has shifted its demographic of hosts quite substantially in the last few years, moving from a bedroom in a house to entire properties to rent. This has presented a HUGE problem – it’s a marketable business opportunity that is affecting rental properties in cities.

That’s why New York has made Airbnb illegal – a sign that the company needs to address these issues, surely? – so that you can only rent a full property for a minimum of 30 days, and many more cities are trying to follow suit, like Paris.

Since moving to Edinburgh, we’ve seen it for ourselves. We’ve met people who live in apartment blocks, and every time someone moves out, the apartment is turned into an Airbnb. I’ve read of one block of ten flats where SEVEN of them are now Airbnbs, and as I cross the Royal Mile to get home, every single door has dozens of key boxes for guests to collect their keys.

Image credit: The Scotsman

But if you want the real figures, rather than the “I know someone” and “I’ve read this” (even if it’s over and over and over again), there are a whopping 12,000 properties available to rent on Airbnb in Edinburgh’s city centre, outstripping actual rental properties for people to live in.

In line with this, rent in Edinburgh has shot through the roof (pun not intended), pricing out most locals from anywhere near the city centre which in turn has pushed up the prices elsewhere in the city.

Every time an advert for Airbnb pops up on Facebook saying that “Edinburgh homeowners could earn this much with Airbnb”, it’s met with a ton of backlash about their unscrupulous behaviour towards encouraging this eating up of all the rental properties that, let’s face it, should be prioritised for the people who live here.

So the problem is not the idea – it’s the execution, and, more importantly, the lack of policy surrounding it.

Victoria Street, Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh’s city centre is full of Airbnbs, pricing out many of the locals

But that’s just the start of it, as the brilliant example of investigative journalism on Vice showed.

Airbnb itself is a shitshow of a company.

It very famously holds zero accountability for its users, and people have literally been bribed into leaving good reviews because otherwise the property host can leave bad reviews of the guests with no repercussions.

If you haven’t read Vice’s article (and I highly recommend that you do), the writer tells us her experience of staying at an Airbnb – or rather not staying there at all. Ten minutes before she arrives, she receives a call to say she can’t stay at the property – but it’s okay, because they have another one she can stay at instead, and it’s bigger. She finds herself in a totally run-down house with a hole in the wall. To make matters worse, she’s kicked out the next day because new people are arriving who probably also didn’t book the place.

After days of pestering the complaints team at Airbnb (by which point they probably hope most people have given up), she is finally refunded around a quarter of her stay, which doesn’t even cover the additional fees that Airbnb had charged on top of the rental, let alone what she had to pay out to stay elsewhere last minute. A quarter refund for a property that didn’t exist and that she was kicked out of after one night.

But don’t worry – if you think that service is inexcusably terrible, wait for what comes next.

She starts looking into who the hosts are, and uncovers a web of properties all with the same photos from different hosts, and begins to realise this is most likely an elaborate scam. She immediately contacts Airbnb to alert them to the scam, and never hears back from them, nor do any of the accounts get removed or suspended.

Cue some incredible investigative journalism, and an entire web of deception leading to one person managing 94 “properties” all over the USA.

Couchsurfing accommodation in Auckland, New Zealand
One of the many times I’ve stayed in someone’s house – but this was on Couchsurfing, not Airbnb!

Six days after Vice’s article was published, in which they didn’t even respond to the journalist in question while the internet went wild over it, Airbnb finally announced that they will verify listings on their website. AFTER ELEVEN YEARS, they will finally ensure that their users are booking legitimate properties, and only because massive, nationwide scams have been publicly uncovered, which even then they took almost a week to address. Unbelievable.

They also promise to offer full refunds to guests who are misled by property descriptions – but I’ll be interested to see how they deal with this, given the sheer number of people that I’ve heard of who have never heard back from Airbnb after filing a complaint.

And the people who do get refunds? It’s usually because the hosts have cancelled their booking last minute (more articles here and here) – something that they can do with no explanation – and completely ruined their trip. Even worse? You can’t leave a review because you haven’t stayed there.

Of course, I know tons of people who have had flawless experiences with Airbnb, and I still find myself browsing it occasionally (I even found a property that only charged a £8 service fee! Not £100!).

Image credit: Airbnb (a Hobbit house with an £8 service fee instead of £100!)

But there’s a reason it’s only an alternative to a hotel, and will never be a replacement. Hotels are professional (usually); they are held accountable and have to meet standards in the industry. They have an entire reputation to found their business on. They will always have amenities that you wouldn’t necessarily get in an Airbnb. Seeing as I usually stay in hostels, Airbnb will never win on price for me.

Once upon a time, I was really keen to give Airbnb a try, and as with anything that is run by people (as opposed to companies), you are always bound to have some bad eggs. The chances of something going horribly wrong is actually pretty rare. But with the way Airbnb itself is run and the lack of service they provide when it does go wrong, I just don’t think it’s something I can support.

It’s a shame, because I really loved the idea behind Airbnb, and so many of my friends still have great experiences with them that I’m still tempted. It’s a great idea for groups of people that otherwise would have to book a load of rooms in a hotel, and you can still find the traditional rent-a-room in someone’s house if you’re looking for the local aspect.

And I can’t see the bubble bursting any time soon, either. Airbnb is more popular than ever… it would just be nice if they showed a shred of ethics every now and again.

So I’m curious – have you stayed in an Airbnb? What do you think of them?

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40 thoughts on “I’ve Still Never Used Airbnb – Here’s Why

  1. I haven’t stayed at an Airbnb and don’t think I will.

    Similarly, I’ve had a lot of people tell me how ~amazing~ it is to live like “a local” and that it is cheaper than a hotel. I never thought it was that much cheaper (especially once additional fees are factored in). Later on as I became more educated about the detrimental impact on the rental market, it seemed even less appealing. Plus, anecdotal experience, but my sister had two Airbnb bookings cancelled last minute and she struggled to find accommodation as the purpose of her trips was for an event (marathon).

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Like you, I’ve often trawled the Airbnb site and found a few places which look kind of promising – until I get to the costings page. The price you see originally suddenly jerks up the scale somewhat so we’ve always preferred to book through a site we’re familiar with and where we know we have some comeback.
    There are still too many stories about people booking Airbnb places only to find when they get there, they don’t exist and they’re in a foreign destination without a place to stay.
    I will stick with what I know, methinks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ll save most of my comment for a coming post I have about AirBnBs vs. hotels (just a personal opinion piece for me – not referencing outside experiences like you did), but here’s a little hint: yeah, everyone continues to RAVE about them, and I still don’t quite get why… Great post, by the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve stayed in Air B&Bs a few times when other friends have booked them They can be good for staying in one place for several days with lots of people sharing an apartment. I find they are less good value for a single night (due to all the fees you mentioned)

    If I am only staying for one night, I’d prefer to get a hotel, as you can leave your bags with the concierge when you want to explore in the morning (rather than having to find a left luggage locker somewhere…)

    I tried to rent an apartment via Air B&B for two weeks when we first moved to Vancouver. Two weeks cost more than a normal months rent AND the hosts kept changing their minds and letting us down. After a couple of cancellations we booked a hotel (as dealing with the hosts was too stressful.) No wonder normal people can’t afford to live here if they can charge double to holiday makers(!!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my god, exactly! It’s the same in Edinburgh, especially throughout August and Hogmanay. It’s just crazy. I agree that they can be great for groups of people, and also agree that “proper accommodation” can offer a lot more in terms of amenities… like you say, it’s nice to have the option to leave your bags, and hotels will often help with transfers, sightseeing and all sorts of things (not to say NO Airbnbs would, but I feel like there are so many Airbnbs now where you’d never even meet your host). Like as weird as it is to say, I think hotels would often be more personable. And if you *are* staying with someone, I think you’d feel a lot less flexible for arriving late etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A well written and well considered post. You’ve highlighted some very real issues here! You’re right, of course, the initial idea behind AirBnB was good but it’s started to become a hornets nest of opaquely regulated semi-professional lets but, weirdly, still seems to retain the ‘live like a local’ tag when its clearly not that – in the main – anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve got mixed feelings towards Airbnb; I like the concept, but feel it’s not always executed sustainably (in terms of not pricing out residents from the local housing market etc.). I used it a few times in the US, as I found it to be better value than hostels in some cities, and also in the UK/Europe. I’d say the best Airbnbs I’ve stayed in are those where the host is genuinely keen to share their enthusiasm for and knowledge of their local area; with some, it does feel like a commercial set-up. I can attest to their horrendous customer service, which has made me wary about using Airbnb in future. My boyfriend ran the Manchester marathon earlier this year, and our Airbnb host cancelled a month beforehand – not as last minute as Nat’s sister, but even by that point virtually everywhere was booked up/way over budget, and their customer service team were an absolute nightmare to deal with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugghhhh. This cancellation thing is maddening! I know so many people that have had issues with it, and there’s nothing you can do. I would probably agree with you – I like staying with people who have a passion about where they live, it makes it so much more welcoming and really does give you a unique service that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, these comments are really interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The worst part is that their customer service team is based in the US, so when they do (eventually) respond to your pleas for help, it’s awkward timing! We got a refund (after a lot of back and forth) and managed to get them to revoke the host’s ‘superhost’ status though, which was something. I think independent B&Bs offer what Airbnb has tried to do much more successfully. I stayed in an absolutely lovely B&B when I was in Exeter for work earlier this year; the guy who ran it gave me lots of tips for Dartmoor (I was heading over there after the conference) and the breakfast was amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. You make some very valid points. On our summer break, we stayed at an Airbnb that really was somebody letting out a couple of spare rooms in their home. It was an expensive area so it was either that or not visit at all. On the same trip, we also stayed at a family run hotel and 2 chain hotels, so mixed it up a bit. I’d never stay at an Airbnb that has few or no reviews, just in case.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember adding you on Couchsurfing! Hilariously, that’s the app I’ve never used for sleeping arrangements, and have had mostly positive experiences on Airbnb! I guess part of the reason I stayed away from CS is majority of offers I get, the hosts clearly want //something more// from me and I’m just not down with that. But I totally get your concerns about Airbnb, and honestly you’re not really missing out on much. I think it may also depend on the duration and location of your stay; I’ve only used Airbnb in SE Asia and in the US…the latter of which was a hilarious..in your words…shitshow. My boyfriend booked a place (he was between apartments) and on the day we were transferring there, it turns out, the host didn’t even know we were booked! He gladly refunded us, but sadly we couldn’t find another Airbnb for the same length of stay at such short notice. Thankfully his former landlady had a neighbor willing to lease for short-term stays! Else we’d have ended up at a hotel (and hotels are expensive af in his part of Hawaii, sweet lord).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha yes, I assume I’ve still got you on there!! CS definitely has its pros and cons too – but at least it’s free, so there’s no sustainability issues, no refund issues etc etc. I am amazed to be honest, by how many of these comments (and on Twitter) have had issues with Airbnb! Glad you found somewhere else to stay though, phew!

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  9. I always tell people ‘if you wouldn’t want an AirBnB next to you where you live, then why would you think anyone else would?’ Really disappointed how entitled some people feel to disrupt others home sanctuaries. I’m not against the concept of home sharing, but it has no absolutely no place in residentially zoned areas. I feel violated as a homeowner who bought in to a neighborhood for schools, safety, taxes etc. Turning residential homes/apartment buildings in to defacto hotels is ethically wrong, and somewhere in the books is likely illegal. How is this company getting away with promoting all this immoral and illegal behavior?!?! It’s repulsive the lack of ethics displayed by this company, its users and some city/state governments who refuse to or are not staffed to address the many issues of STRs effectively.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Completely agree. I had never used AirBnB for the same reasons you cite, until last year when I needed to move to Leeds at short notice to start a new job; the few hostels in the city didn’t look very appealing, so I booked a single room in someone’s house for one week, to get set up, start work and find a houseshare. It was fine, but certainly expensive (£50 cleaning fee for a small room for one week, when I stripped the bedclothes myself before leaving?!). I don’t think I would ever use it to book a whole property though, for the ethical reasons you mention and also because too much can go wrong!

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  11. This is really insightful stuff – although I know people who’ve had really good experiences with Airbnb I’ve never considered trying it. I can’t help feeling more secure with a hotel for a number of reasons – including protection financially as well as personal safety and various other conveniences that come with a hotel stay 😊

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  12. I’ve mostly had good experiences with Air Bnb. But did recently get scammed in Montreal. Air Bnb support were useless. It took me 3 weeks to get a refund. Fortunately, it was a last minute trip so I was able to dispute the charge on my credit card before paying.

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  13. As somone who lives in a building with Airbnb apartments, they also reduce the quality of the building hugely. Most of the people that stay do not care about being good neighbors, they make noise and leave trash everywhere, it is horrible!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I actually wrote a blog post about this topic a few months ago. As a travel planner I’ve only stayed in Airbnb’s 2 times. I’ve had clients stay in them. My 2 experiences were good. And my clients had mostly good experiences. But I, like you, don’t like that there’s no regulation. And it’s not always the cheapest option. And like you, the ethics of it worry me. I don’t want to see locals priced out of their homes. So I proceed with caution in using it or recommending it for travel clients. Thanks for writing and sharing this post!

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  15. I’ve used Airbnb 3 times now and it’s been great each time and much cheaper than a hotel or hostel (even with the annoying extra charges). The first was a static caravan on a holiday park on the south coast. I stayed there with a friend and we each had our own bedroom and bathroom. The place was really posh and lovely and nothing like the static caravans from my childhood. Next was the spare room in someone’s apartment in Rotterdam. I shared the bathroom and kitchen. It was a very typical old Dutch apartment and was absolutely fine to stay in and close to the metro system. Finally was last year in New York when I stayed in a spare room in a brownstone in Brooklyn. It was much cheaper than anywhere else, the most amazing house, a really informative and helpful host and best of all I got to experience staying in a brownstone. I totally agree with the ethical argument about Airbnb making it impossible for locals to rent a home and so would never rent a whole property in an area that these issues. The static caravan was a whole property but that was meant to be a holiday home. Staying in someone’s spare room gives you much more of a local feel too than having a whole place to yourself that’s probably kitted out for tourists rather than designed as a home. I’m sure I’ll stay in Airbnbs again but it’s only one of my options and I’ll always look at hostels and cheap hotels too. Along with camping and sleeping in my van of course.

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  16. This is such an interesting conversation. I’ve read a ton of the articles recently, but we have been traveling for 8 months and used AirBnB a lot. My favorite is staying in people’s guesthouses or guest suites because we can get to know our hosts, but have some space. I’m embarrassed how much time I’ve spent on the website, but the three main things I look for are how many properties the owner has (1 is best obviously), reviews that have details and places without the crazy fees. We would have had a tough time finding places in some of the locations we’ve been and we always stay for a week of so and it definitely ends up being cheaper. It will be interesting to see how the company evolves with all the feedback they’ve given.

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  17. Such a great insight. I have used Airbnb once or twice, bust mostly for the more unique places like a cool cabin I went to last year. I agree about the fees though, some are crazy. Mostly I prefer hotels as one thing with Airbnb is you can’t leave luggage if you arrive early or leave later than check out

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  18. Interesting read. Rent is crazy expensive in Orlando too, but I never thought to tie it to Airbnb properties. We have even talked about buying a property to turn into an Airbnb, but we haven’t looked into it much. This makes me rethink that whole idea. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Great article. I homeshare on AirBnb & list the same home for entire house on rare occasions (2x in a year for 5-7 nights each). It’s a lot of work to get my entire house ready, so I only do this on dates where there is demand and can price accordingly to make it worth hassle of being gone for a few days. It’s completely a part time business/hobby for me to host. If I owned a second property I wouldn’t do str, just long term lease with one tenant.

    Despite the amount of money one can make, I don’t think full time Airbnbs in residential neighborhoods are right. I am against entire space listings owned by commercial operators managing multiple listings.

    The reason there are so many entire space listings (most of them illegal, unregulated full time hotels in residential neighborhoods) is the incredible amount of money a host can earn by listing entire space. It’s no secret you can earn far more money in a month by charging per night to tourists coming and going instead of per month with a leased tenant. You’re talking sometimes 10k USD in a month if you rented it on AirBnb with 4-12 turnovers in a month. About 40% of Airbnbs revenue is from commercial operators running illegal (or legal and disruptive) Airbnbs of this sort.

    When a local homeowner is listing their space on AirBnb, they don’t have to worry about whether the space gets booked or not because they either have careers that cover the mortgage or retired and their house is paid off. As a result they are more picky with guests. They can handle zero bookings (not good for AirBnb). They don’t bring problem guests to the area because they know their neighbors and their neighbors know them.

    When you’re dealing with commercial operator host who doesn’t live there, they are fully dependent on bookings because some go as far to take 15 year mortgages. If they are needing money badly they do not screen guests carefully and allow parties. They do not consider how their decision will affect the neighbors.

    What I discovered in my hosting journey is that most AirBnb guests I’ve interacted online do not want to book a private room in house, despite that there’s private bath. They want the whole place to themselves. Very few guests use a kitchen to prep & cook meals.

    I enjoy hosting but not set on using AirBnb as a guest for traveling. In fact, if one looks carefully, several hosts don’t use AirBnb as guests.

    Many Hosts complain that they take risks by hosting strangers and they are, but guests are taking the bigger risk in the transaction because they have to pay upfront to AirBnb and hope for the best that their host is responsible & trustworthy individual. There’s also the risk when host lists on multiple platforms (AirBnb, booking, VRBO etc) because they can sell same dates to the highest bidder and cancel the rest of the lower paid bookings. Awful!!!

    Hotels I’ve noticed are not as expensive for the service you’re paying (daily housekeeping, up to fire code, free breakfast, luggage drop off, 24 hr maintenance etc). Also they are providing real jobs with benefits to locals, and zoned away from residential.

    If traveling to a different country I don’t want to be arrested abroad because I somehow was complicit in booking an illegal AirBnb. I also don’t want to be kicked out of the AirBnb because the host lied they’re the homeowner when they’re actually renter and the landlord bangs on door saying host is behind on rent! I like original AirBnb and homesharing but to book an AirBnb for my own travel is too risky because I see from a host perspective how another host can screw this all up. Not my first option for lodging.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. You’re right when you say AirBnB is a shitshow of a company.

    I used to rent out my spare room on there. I was regularly booked out, probably because my place was the cheapest in the area. I was only looking to make money to pay the other half of my rent, instead of ripping people off.

    The first red flag was when they sent me an email saying that they would temporarily remove my listing from search results if I got a 3 star rating. I had been getting 4 or 5 star overall ratings and the last guest had decided to give me 3 stars for 1 of the 5 sections. To me, 3 stars would be good, right?

    The final flag was when I had guests damage my front door. They say they have a million dollar host guarantee, so I submitted a claim and provided all the paperwork they requested. The guests admitted that they caused the damage.

    After a month of chasing them up, they finally got back to me and said they wouldn’t pay the claim because I had other guests check in afterwards. I was rather perplexed as to why that could nullify a claim, but they were adamant.

    I decided that it was best to stop using the platform at that point. They treat hosts, the backbone of their business, so appallingly.

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  21. My wife and I frequently use Air B&B on our long distance vacations. You helps to establish a good conversation with the proprietor who is renting the property. I would be uneasy showing up to a property where this element is lacking.

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  22. So many good points. I like the original idea behind Airbnb but it’s growing faster than the company/society can keep up with it, and the consequences have been terrible. I’ve actually seen some travel bloggers hand out advice on how to stay in Airbnb’s where its illegal and it is very upsetting. It’s actually ruining locals lives in certain parts of the world.. Thank you so much for putting this out there!

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  23. I think that generalizing is not the ideal way of looking at a picture.
    All the Airbnb’s that I have stayed in were great and probably one of the only aspects that helped towards making a trip affordable.
    Fair enough the commission does add a bit to the price.
    Longer stays do work out more affordable per day.

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  24. I stayed once b/c it was a friend’s property and figured it would help both: he got a review, I got a good price and a guide.
    But I never booked a place I didn’t know the owners of. Eventually, I’ve deleted the account especially b/c they do not check anything. Booking checks! And I’ve used booking for the past 2 years for everything I booked. Before I used hostelbookers

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  25. Such an insightful article Clazz! With the increasing gentrification of houses in Europe, this article hits the nail in the head on why AirBnB has destroyed neighbourhoods. I like that you’re honest with youwhat you use, and I have personally not used airbnb when travelling but I do see the appeal for a lot of people. Hope most people read this before they consider Airbnb!

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  26. I typically use AirBnB when I stay somewhere for a week or more because I like having more space and a full kitchen. But I do have my doubts about it. I agree that a hotel can often be cheaper when you take into consideration all the fees, especially if you are staying somewhere less than a week. It is pretty sketchy too. There are so many examples like the one you gave that make me think twice before using it.

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