Didi, Uber of China, adjusts app for passenger safety

17/05/2018

 

Didi, a Chinese ride-hailing app similar to Uber, announced a spate of app changes to improve passenger safety following following the grisly report that a young woman was raped and killed by her driver in the northern city of Zhengzhou.

 

 

Responding to concern over the incident, Didi temporarily suspended its car-pooling service Hitch and added per-trip facial recognition. The Hitch function will continue to be suspended between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.. The 21-year-old-victim, Li Mingzhu, had used Hitch and was reportedly slayed by a son using his father’s app.

The popular platform also changed all profile pictures to a generic image and has disabled a function of the app that allowed drivers to rate and leave personal comments about passengers.

“We are deeply saddened by and sorry about the tragedy,” the company said in a statement. “We need to step up to win the trust of our users. Our responsibilities in this case are undeniable.”

China’s Ministry of Transport announced on May 11 that it plans to tighten regulation of the ride-hailing industry.

 

 

“We are deeply saddened by and sorry about the tragedy,” the company said in a statement. “We need to step up to win the trust of our users. Our responsibilities in this case are undeniable.”

 

 

As news of the incident spread, app users, in particular women, said they found it unsettling that drivers could leave comments about them on their profiles. Those comments, which sometimes included references to their appearance, could be seen by other drivers.

Some women took to the popular Chinese microblogging platform Weibo to call out the companies practices using the hashtag #changedidiprofilepicture.

Didi announced that several additional changes are in the works, including requiring drivers for all of its services to pass a background check. Drivers will also have to photograph themselves before every Hitch trip for facial recognition approval.

TechCrunch pointed out that one recurring issue with Didi is that the driver’s license of the car that arrives often doesn’t match the one booked on the app. The enhanced facial recognition requirement might lessen the practice, but the company is also planning on rolling out a rewards program for users who report mismatched license plate numbers. The company also said it will make the app’s emergency button more prominent.

 

 

As news of the incident spread, app users, in particular women, said they found it unsettling that drivers could leave comments about them on their profiles. Those comments, which sometimes included references to their appearance, could be seen by other drivers.

 

 

The company has also invited the public to help shape its policy, asking them to weigh in on whether all rides should be audio recorded. Users would have to consent in the app before this happening and the recording would be encrypted and stored on Didi servers, not phones, then deleted after 72 hours, TechCrunch reported. 

Another question being tossed to users is whether individuals with criminal convictions unrelated to personal safety or public security should be eligible to become drivers.

Didi, one of China’s most successful tech companies, has been expanding at a rapid pace, claiming to have 450 million users worldwide. The company bought out Uber‘s business in China two years ago and is exploring making a multi-billion initial public offering this year, according to media outlets.

U.S. Too

America’s homegrown Uber has faced similar safety concerns from female passengers. CNN recently released the results of an investigation that uncovered 103 Uber drivers accused of sexual assault across the country. Two weeks after the report was released, Uber announced it would no longer force victims of alleged sexual assault into arbitration, instead allowing them to sue the company or pursue the best avenue as they see fit.

The former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down last year amid accusations that, among other things, the company’s workplace culture tolerated sexual harassment.

#MeToo?

The news of the Didi tragedy comes as the #MeToo movement that first seized the U.S. last year has been gaining steam in China. In recent days, Chinese social media platforms have been ablaze with a 20-year-old story about a young woman who claimed to have been raped by her professor and then killed herself.

Outlets reported that the government has tried to censor the story online, but it has been shared millions of times. Perhaps signaling a sea change in cultural sentiment, several universities have publicly condemned the professor, who has denied the allegations.

 

 

 

 

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