This article was published on September 26, 2019

Mired in crime controversy, Uber reveals new safety features

Mired in crime controversy, Uber reveals new safety features Image by: Uber
Rachel Kaser
Story by

Rachel Kaser

Internet Culture Writer

Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback riding. Check her Twitter for curmudgeonly criticisms.

Uber revealed a number of new safety features for its app, including 911 texts, rider PIN numbers, and on-trip reporting. All of this sounds like it’s designed to help keep the rider safe, but recent reports suggest Uber is less interested in protecting the customer than it’d want you to believe.

The ridesharing company outlined many planned changes for its ecosystem, including joining its main app with UberEats so users only have to make requests from one place. Most of the features look well enough — the partnership with Feeding America which helps restaurants move uneaten food to banks via Uber Eats would be worth a gold star any other day — but it’s the safety features that are most notable, if only for the timing of their release.

The biggest safety upgrade is 911 text messaging, which, when selected, gives you a pre-written text message with information about your Uber ride and a blank space for you to describe your emergency. It’s definitely something that sounds helpful, provided your 911 operator is equipped to receive text messages.

Another is the ability to report safety issues in real-time to a member of Uber’s Safety Team.The feature is obviously not intended for emergency reporting — the text on the report even tells you to call 911 for immediate assistance. But if you spot a problem with your driver or rider that’s not an immediate danger, this would, in theory, let you tell Uber on the fly.

The other safety feature is a PIN verification system, whereby a rider will have to provide a PIN from the app to their driver to verify they’re getting in the correct car. The ride will not start (and the driver won’t get paid) until the correct PIN has been entered.

These updates come just as Uber is being chastised yet again for its safety failures. Washington Post report this week detailed how the company’s own safety officers prioritized liability over rider safety. These investigators were never permitted to escalate criminal cases to the police, no matter how damning the evidence, nor were they allowed to advise victims to go to the police or lawyers themselves.

Said one former investigator to WaPo: “Investigators are there first to protect Uber; and then next to protect the customer… Our job is to keep the tone of our conversations with customers and drivers so that Uber is not held liable.” Sure, logically, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that it’s the job a company’s employee to protect the company, but it’s still pretty cold-blooded that investigators weren’t allowed to contact police. Keep in mind Uber is frequently hit with claims of rape, a crime notorious for not being reported by victims.

So the inclusion of a new reporting feature feels a little bit rich coming from Uber right now. And the features which double-check to make sure you get in the right car don’t address the root issue of the problem in the WaPo article: I can do all the real-life two-factor authentication in the world, but it’s not going to protect me if the driver is one of the ones Uber allowed to get away with something to cover their own butts.

Still, fingers crossed these features help at least one person who gets into trouble in one of Uber’s cars.

All of these features are currently in development, and hopefully we’ll see one or more of them on the app in the near future.

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