Online ride-hailing app Uber, headquartered in San Francisco, US, on Thursday announced new safety features on the app, which include four-digit verifiable pin, ride-check for detours and stopped rides, as well as an option to auto-record conversations during a trip on both the rider and driver side for the India market.
The audio-recording feature and pin verification, which is based on NFC -- a short-range wireless technology that enables secure communication between electronic devices -- will be rolled out this year. The ride-check feature was officially rolled out on Thursday. A pin system to verify genuine drivers and cab details was first implemented by Uber's India competitor, Ola. In Uber's case, the pin verification system is optional.
The announcements were made by Sachin Kansal, senior director of product management at Uber.
Kansal told TechCircle that the audio call recording, if shared by the user or the driver with Uber to flag a concern, will be treated on par with other data points by the company. "The recording is stored on the rider or driver's phone is encrypted, and cannot be transferred or accessed by the rider or driver. The recording can only be deleted or shared with Uber for a safety concern," said Kansal on a query related to privacy concerns and the legality of collecting recordings.
The company has been rolling out these features in a phased manner across multiple markets since September 2019, after the murder of a university student in the US. It had introduced driver verification, checking whether the registered driver was driving the vehicle by asking them to share a selfie for random checks. The company also introduced the audio-recording feature in November in the US.
Kansal said that Uber had released a safety transparency report for the US market for 2017 and 2018. However no such report on security and safety concerns for the India market exists as of now.
"The new features apply to any service that has a rider and a driver on the Uber app. As far as bike-renting integration or public transport is concerned, it does not apply to those," added Kansal.
He further said that the ride-check feature was a result of India-specific concerns raised by users. Depending on multiple factors, including an anomaly on vehicle location or ending a ride mid-way or away from the destination, the customer support will call the user to ensure their safety.
Uber had set up a CoE (centre of excellence) in Hyderabad, which employs 1,200 members and serves as customer centre for India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and some Asia Pacific regions. The company had added another CoE in Visakhapatnam recently.
In November, the global parent pumped in $246 million into Uber India Systems, the local subsidiary. The entity houses Uber’s ride-sharing business in India as well as its food delivery vertical, UberEats, as per a restructuring in October 2019. The deal valued Uber’s ride-sharing business at $265 million, while the food delivery business was valued at $104 million.