By on January 6, 2020

Uber released its first safety report on Saturday, primarily to address concerns surrounding rider welfare. The media has become increasingly critical of Uber as a brand after its corporate culture was dubbed toxic — allegedly loaded with sexism and financial progress by any means necessary. Following a fatal accident involving one of the company’s autonomous test vehicles, many grew fearful that the company hadn’t fallen into the habit of promoting (or appreciating) public safety. Hoping to assuage some of those concerns, Uber put together its own safety report.

Earlier in the month, the ride-hailing service said it had received reports of 3,045 sexual assaults in the United States in 2018, with 9 people murdered (nearly half of them drivers… fortunately?) and 58 crash-related deaths. Uber said these issues only affected 0.0002 percent of the 1.3 billion rides the company orchestrated in the United States that year.

The new study attempts to frame data, accumulated over 21 months, against national averages to show that Uber is simply suffering from issues inherent to our society. While noting that an estimated 44 percent of women in the U.S. have been a victim of sexual violence seems like an odd way to absolve oneself from wrongdoing, Uber’s just a fancy cab service trying to distance itself from systemic fears that may have not have been entirely fair. 

Much of the early criticisms focused on Uber’s vetting (or lack thereof) of those allowed to drive under its banner. The media accused the company of allowing thousands of people with a criminal record to work as contractors. While this doesn’t seem terribly inconsistent with any taxi or black-car service in operation, Uber is a gigantic company with the nation’s eyes upon it; and all it took was one driver with a spotty record following a passenger home to assault them to get everyone worked up. Then it happened a few more times, with the discovery of other chauffeurs with similarly unsavory pasts.

Back in December, Uber told The New York Times that, while it found its own research upsetting, it had to lay the blame on society as a whole. “The numbers are jarring and hard to digest,” explained Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer. “What it says is that Uber is a reflection of the society it serves.”

The full report goes into almost grisly detail of what types of assaults took place in 2017 and 2018, with reporting rates for what type of sexual misconduct customers claim they experienced. Fortunately, the frequency of all events was relatively low. The most common subcategory, non-consensual touching of a sexual body part, was only reported once every 900,000 trips through the first half of 2019. Like all other categories, that represents a modest improvement in reporting vs the previous year.

Uber says it wants to use lessons learned from the U.S. study to accumulate useful data elsewhere in the world. However, this might reflect badly on the company. If the data Uber is seeing is reflective of the region in which it’s collected, comparisons between them will automatically put the company back on blast. Even minor disparities will encourage people to ask why Uber isn’t doing more in specific regions, to which it will have no response other than “this behavior is inherent to the people that live here.” Because that’s basically what it did with the data from the United States.

Something tells me that won’t go over well once international comparisons arise.

The good news is that Uber claims it wants to continue improving tools intended to promote safety. There are ways to share your location with family and friends, obscure data (addresses and phone numbers) so drivers won’t be able to visit you after their shift, identification tools to make sure the person behind the wheel is the individual the firm actually designated to drive, and more. It also said it absolutely will not tolerate any violent behavior misconduct under its watch:

When reviewing an incident report, agents gather information by speaking with all parties involved and examining other relevant facts obtained through the case-review process, such as GPS trip data, photos and/or videos, in-app communications, etc. Based on learnings from experts, we rely heavily on a survivor’s statement of experience; it does not require conclusivity [sic], corroboration, or survivor “credibility” for us to take action. If a survivor is not able or willing to provide this statement of experience, we rely on any relevant facts obtained through the case-review process.

Violent offenders have no place in the Uber community, and it’s our priority to prevent their access to our platform. Uber will ban users from the platform if we are able to obtain a statement of experience from the survivor and/or obtain relevant facts (e.g., GPS data, timestamps, videos/photos, in-app communications).

Uber also aims to scale up its safety team; it has partnered with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to set up a hotline so riders and drivers can easily report attacks and set themselves up for professional help (if needed). The company also says it plans to share information about suspicious drivers with competitors to insure they’re not hired elsewhere.


[Image: MikeDotta/Shutterstock]

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15 Comments on “Newly Released Uber Safety Report Focuses On Sexual Misconduct, Murder...”

  • avatar

    This should be a super fun thread!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “What it says is that Uber is a reflection of the society it serves.”

    I think this is a very relevant statement, and the same is true for any workplace.

    Except for solitary confinement, the human existence involves interactions that inevitably and statistically lead to conflict. If Uber is 6-sigma compliant on this issue, that seems pretty amazing.

    • 0 avatar

      “What it says is that Uber is a reflection of the society it serves.”

      Yes, in another sense.

      People always want something for nothing and deals that are too good to be true. Uber is dealing. It’s collecting probably half what it needs to collect to be a sustainable business despite exploiting drivers right to the ragged edge of not being able to retain enough drivers to provide service.

      • 0 avatar

        I have to severely disagree. The only reason Uber is loosing money is because they are spending it all on research. Their current core business is an app that acts as a dispatcher between a consumer and driver. I have also talked to plenty of drivers that take home more money in a week than I do. They work during peak times. The complainers are usually those that don’t want to work Friday or Saturday nights, don’t want to work early and don’t want to work late. When I lived in Puyallup, I had a retired gentleman take me to the airport several times.
        He would work 4 very early mornings in a week about 5 hours each, and said he would take home about $1000 per week. He even had tips disabled. He was usually the only one working, and he figured out when to work to make the most. Uber’s costs are fixed and pretty much related to operating the app. Without our in the sky projects that they’re wasting money on they would be very profitable.

        • 0 avatar

          That’s what America is turning into, especially California – into nation of complainers and whiners. It wasn’t like that in 2000 when I came here. Thanks God Sacramento will destroy Uber and other part time employment so people stop complaining and go back to trying to catch dirty taxicab.

        • 0 avatar

          Without those pie-in-the-sky projects they’d have the valuation of a cab company and no access to talent.

          And I hope your retired guy wasn’t trying to brag on grossing $1000 per week. What was his net after expenses? For a lot of the drivers here in the city, it’s well under the $15/hour minimum wage, sometimes even under $10.

  • avatar

    It is pretty funny that the unintended consequence of feminists lying about sexual assault frequency is people being dismissive of a few instances of sexual assault.

    I took three Uber rides the other day. Does the cologne come with the driver application?

  • avatar

    Anytime you see a headline about an Uber driver doing something wrong, just change Uber to Taxi and throw it into google. You’ll find the same results. Uber’s an easy punching bag due to name recognition as mentioned. I say keep the heat on them so they keep working towards improving their processes.

    Sensationalizing the dangers of Uber is having mothers thinking their teens are safer in a traditional taxi. Which I think is hilarious when my anecdotal memories of taxi rides included drivers not matching the licence strapped to the back of the seat pretty often. Thinking taxi companies are going to do any better of a job of screening it’s drivers is silly.

    • 0 avatar

      Thinking about the best taxi experience I had in North America and I don’t think I ever had an Uber vehicle that bad. They’re usually late model and pretty decent. Compared to the average taxi that’s an ex cop car they bought at 200k very hard miles.

      • 0 avatar

        That was true in the beginning of Uber but lately all of my Ubers have been Priuses or Camry Hybrids in cab condition. Cabs in many places (especially DC where I travel often) have also improved. Now I’d say the quality of car is indistinguishable, at least in bigger cities.

        New York is sort of a special case in that both the cabs and the Ubers are uniformly terrible.

  • avatar

    Biggest fear with taxi drivers used to be them taking the scenic route to run up the meter. Yikes.

    • 0 avatar

      1950s Maybury? I used taxis to commute for a while twenty years ago, and Uber is Pan Am to taxicabs’ Greyhound. They aren’t perfect, but you know who the driver is and he can’t try to extort money from you while billing someone else for the same ride, which is what every taxi I ever encountered during Chandler Franklin and Obrien’s ‘Free Ride Home’ to prevent drunk driving in Charlottesville did over a several year period. The other night my drunk coworker left his cellphone in an Uber. The guy returned it the next day from 30 miles away for $15.

  • avatar

    The thing that jumped out at me when they released their initial report about the thousands of sexual assaults against female passengers is that the silence about what their female drivers experience is deafening. Groups of drunk young men are extremely dangerous.

  • avatar

    It’s 11PM, a young waitress has finished her shift at a downtown restaurant and needs to get home safely. Stand on the corner waiting for a bus? Wait on a deserted subway platform? Or take an Uber. If it’s your daughter which should she pick?

  • avatar

    One personal anecdote to throw in the hat… strictly for consideration along with the rest of the data in the report.

    I don’t drive for Uber but I do drive for Lyft. Once, I was summoned to a bar in the late evening where a young woman (likely early 20’s) got into my car. On the way to the destination (a residential home) she passed out in the back seat. Upon arrival she was not responsive to my verbal prompt we had arrived. Thankfully, she was breathing (I feared alcohol poisoning). Figuring it was her parents’ home, I rang the doorbell to get their assistance but no one answered. Called Lyft’s helpline and explained what was going on — they said to call 911, which I did. Waited outside in the cold at the base of the driveway until the police showed up, who assisted by getting the parents out of the house and assisting the young woman out of my car so I could go pick up my next rider.

    I get it- with a different driver, this could have had a tragic outcome for the young woman. What did happen here was obviously what should have happened given the circumstances – but are these statistics being tracked?

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