Internet companies: Attack of the clones – American web firms are battling foreign hordes that look remarkably similar

On August 1st Airbnb, an online marketplace that helps people rent rooms, admitted that it had mishandled a complaint from someone whose apartment was ransacked by one of its renters. Brian Chesky, the firm’s boss, begged forgiveness and announced that from August 15th Airbnb would cover up to $50,000-worth of damage caused by its customers, subject to certain (as yet unannounced) conditions. Soon afterwards 9flats, a rival based in Berlin, said it, too, would offer insurance.An Airbnb executive gripes that such behaviour is typical of 9flats, which he says copies much of what Airbnb does. (9flats admits to being “inspired” by American e-commerce, but insists that its website and pricing model differ from Airbnb’s.) Other American web superstars, such as Groupon, a discount firm, and Kickstarter, which crowdsources funding for arts and technology projects, have also been attacked by “clones” (services set up in foreign markets that are almost identical to the American originals). As the cost of computing power plummets and the prices of hot start-ups soar — Airbnb was recently valued at an eye-watering $1.3 billion — the clone wars will get bloody.

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