Uber announced it was “getting serious about safety” in April — just shy of a decade since Uber was founded — and pointed to a number of forthcoming features that would support that declaration.
On Wednesday, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asserted in a blog post that the company was “raising the bar on safety” with another round of new safety updates. Unfortunately, it looks as though Australians might not be able to enjoy them.
The first feature listed in the post is called Ride Check. It uses GPS and “other sensors in the driver’s smartphone,” Uber says, to identify whether you’ve been in an accident. If Uber detects that you might have been in a crash, it’ll send both the user and the driver its Safety Toolkit via the app, asking if everything is OK and giving them the option to call 911.
The blog post indicated that this Safety ToolKit, as well as the company’s panic button, will expand to all drivers across the US and Canada. There's still been no word of if or when Australians will get them.
Ride Check will also identify other factors that might indicate whether someone is in danger, such as “a long, unexpected stop during a trip”. This will also prompt this safety notification. Although, if someone was in serious danger, it’s unlikely they would have ease of access to go through the motions of Uber’s Safety ToolKit options.
“We expect to expand this technology to additional scenarios in the future,” Khosrowshahi wrote in the post.
The post also listed a few other safety features that are inarguably important but also feel bafflingly belated. The company will soon roll out voice-activated commands for drivers, for example, affording them the option to chat with users hands-free.
The company will also let both drivers and users chat through the app without disclosing their actual phone number. Further, Uber will let users request a trip at a cross-street instead of the exact address. Drivers will also only see the “general area” of the beginning and end point of a trip after it ends.
This follows a slew of reports of drivers stalking or harassing passengers.
In April, Uber announced it was launching a pilot program that would obscure the exact pickup and drop-off locations of a user’s trip history, instead showing drivers a wider scope.
Uber is also expanding its two-factor authentication process. Users can opt-in to have two-step verification each time they log in, whether it’s through texts (which can be intercepted in a targeted attack) or third-party authentication apps.
Not all of these features are available to all users now — they are expected to roll out “over the coming months.” It's unclear whether this rollout will include Australia, though Uber Australia has made no announcements regarding these features.
“Uber has a responsibility to help keep people safe, and it’s one we take seriously,” Khosrowshahi wrote. “We want you to have peace of mind every time you use Uber, and hope these features make it clear that we’ve got your back.”
If you know only a few things about Uber, one is that it’s a ridesharing service, and the other is likely that it has a hell of a mess to clean up. Khosrowshahi just hit his one-year mark with the company, and among the litany of issues he was tasked with upon his arrival, a major one was safety.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but these basic and crucial updates point to a slightly more safe and secure service. But it’s barely commendable — these are issues and features Uber should have been thinking about before it hit the market.