Uber riders in some cities will soon be able to send text 911 directly from the app and automatically transfer details of their location and vehicles they are in to emergency services.
The features, announced Thursday by Uber, are among a number of security updates scheduled over the next six months as the ride-hailing company reads to release a report of sexual abuse and other serious security incidents involving Uber- drivers and riders.
years to help riders ensure they are in their assigned driver's vehicle before the rides begin. The changes follow an incident in March when a driver pretending to work for Uber allegedly killed a college student after she got in the wrong car. An opt-in PIN feature will ask riders to give drivers the correct four-digit code before the driver can begin the ride. An ultrasound signal feature, which is still under development, will allow drivers and riders' phones to confirm a match before the tour begins. A new face recognition-driven driver ID process will force drivers to "more actively" confirm that they are the person using the account by winking, smiling and turning their heads at the camera.
Uber announced plans for the sexual assault report in May 2018, but did not specify when to release; a Uber spokesman said Thursday that there is still no release date for the report because collecting it turned out to be more difficult than the company expected. Security product manager Sachin Kansal declined to comment Wednesday on how often users find themselves in dangerous situations during Uber rides, and how often they use the company's app tools to contact either law enforcement or the company.
A study by The Washington Post published this week found that the contractors designated to investigate and resolve harassment and abuse claims faced time pressure from Uber management, and that Uber had allowed drivers to face multiple complaints of abuse to continue to run on the platform. Last year, CNN reported that at least 103 U.S. Uber drivers had been accused of assaulting or abusing their passengers since 2014.
Transmission of live Uber data to emergency responders is not new. The ride-hailing company announced a collaboration with emergency technology company RapidSOS last year that allows riders calling 911 through Uber's security toolkit in the app to immediately send more accurate location data. San Francisco began using the technology in April, but a spokesman for the city's emergency management department says no rider has yet used the tool. This, says Kansal, is probably good news. The 911 call and text feature is "one that I, as a product owner, never hope to use, because we don't want people to have emergency situations," he says.