Uber will allow passengers and drivers in Brazil and Mexico to record audio of their rides as it attempts to improve its safety record and image, and eventually it hopes to launch the feature into other markets including the United States.
The ride-hailing company plans to pilot the feature in cities in both countries in December, although it has no timeline for possible expansion in the US and other markets.
The feature will allow customers to opt into recording all or select trips. Recordings will be stored on the rider or driver’s phone and encrypted to protect privacy, and users will not be able to listen to them. They can later share a recording with Uber, which will have an encryption key, if they want to report a problem.
Whether the recording feature will deter violent behavior to help riders and drivers is unknown. But Uber stands to benefit because the recordings could help the company mitigate losses and rein in liability for incidents that flare up between drivers and passengers.
For example, if a shouting match erupts between a driver and passenger, and both accuse the other of being verbally abusive, the recording could help Uber determine where fault lies after the incident, mitigating any kind of loss or claim that could be made against the driver, said Thom Rickert, the vice-president and emerging risk specialist at Trident Public Risk Solutions.
“It probably is not going to prevent something from happening,” Rickert said. “It will probably just help you analyze what can we do to change outcomes the next time.”
Uber says the new feature will promote accountability and help its safety team take decisive action when needed.
The recording feature also raises privacy concerns that drivers or passengers could have their conversations recorded without their knowledge or consent.
“It’s a digital recording. It’s going to exist on a server somewhere,” Rickert said. “Yes, it can be encrypted. Yes, it can be hacked … so that is a privacy concern for the individual that has lost control over that recording.”
Uber has struggled with safety issues and faced accusations that some of its drivers have assaulted and raped passengers. It also has been hit with litigation alleging that its hiring process and background checks are inadequate. Uber does not conduct fingerprint-based background checks, which traditional taxi companies generally perform before hiring drivers.
The San Francisco-based company’s drivers also have been victims of attacks. In both Brazil and Mexico, Uber allows riders to pay with cash, which increases the risk of incidents. In Brazil, drivers have been robbed and have suffered fatal attacks while using the Uber platform, the company said in a federal filing.
Uber plans to release a safety report this year, which provides data on reports of sexual assaults and other safety incidents that occurred in the US.
The company has been adding safety features to its app over the past year, including one that helps riders ensure they’re getting into the right vehicle and another that enables users to call 911 from within the app and automatically share the vehicle’s location with first responders.
The Uber co-founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick is cashing in more than half a billion dollars of his stake in the ride share app, months after the company went public.
After the end of the so-called “lockup period”, a 180-day restriction on inside and early investor sales, came to an end on Wednesday, Kalanick sold more than 20m shares, according to a financial filing submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.
Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, has attempted to limit the damage after calling the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi “a mistake” similar to a fatal accident that occurred during tests of his company’s self-driving car.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national resident in the US, and a severe critic of the Saudi regime who wrote for the Washington Post, was murdered in Istanbul last year after visiting the Saudi Arabian consulate there. His body was dismembered and disposed of.
It feels a bit Alice in Silicon Valleyland, but the good news for Uber this week was that it lost $1.2bn in the third quarter of 2019. While burning that kind of cash in 90 days would make even WeWork’s Adam Neumann blush, it is an improvement over the previous quarter’s jaw-dropping deficit of $5.24bn.
Uber was smart to get itself listed on the New York stock exchange before the WeWork fiasco. There’s now a much-needed mood of scepticism on Wall Street towards cash-burning companies whose horizon for profitability stretches into the middle distance. Uber might find it harder today to raise $8bn (£6.2bn) at a whizzy valuation. Read More
Uber has announced a slew of updates to its app – including consolidating its food delivery and ride-hailing services, and a new feature highlighting local public transportation options – in a bid to create “an operating system for everyday life”.
Uber announced the more than 25 changes to its platform at a launch event in San Francisco on Thursday. Among the tech company’s most significant moves will be merging its ride-hailing app and food-delivery app Uber Eats, and offering users alternative travel information including bikes, scooters, public transportation, and even helicopters in some locations.