Uber announced the launch of new safety features for the India market on Thursday.
The first one, RideCheck, will enable the company to note trip irregularities such as long or unexpected stops or midway drops that might indicate an increased safety risk, especially for women.
“If an anomaly is detected, Uber will send a push notification to both driver and rider, through the safety blue shield within the app. They will then see five or six options to clarify on the situation, such as share location, call 100, reach out to the Uber safety line and so on,” said Sachin Kansal, it senior director for global safety products.
The company says the feature is now live for about half of Uber's users and will be available for the other half within two weeks. Riders have complained of not being able to get help or being stranded on roads due to a cab breakdown and so on. This feature could address some of these.
Uber will also be experimenting with audio recording as a safety feature in the Indian market this year. This choice will be given to rider or driver through their phone while on-trip. When the trip ends, the user has the option to report a safety incident and send the recording. The audio file will be recorded within the Uber app and encrypted. The user will not be able to listen to the stored recording on his or her device but may choose to send it to Uber’s customer support agents, who will use the audio to understand what did happen and take action. Only Uber will have access to the audio once the user sends
“It is a feature we tested in the Latin America market. We want to make sure we keep local regulation in mind before we pilot it in India,” Kansal said.
Final word is awaited on the Personal Data Protection Bill. Once made into law, this will decide the privacy and personal data protections people would have in cases like these. The third feature is similar to the PIN-verification used by rival firm Ola. Once a rider boards a vehicle, they may provide a four-digit PIN number to the driver, verbally. The driver can then start the trip in the app only when the correct PIN is entered.
“We are also working on making this happen wirelessly — once a user is in close enough proximity with the driver, the PIN number can get entered automatically,” said Kansal.
On whether this was a feature modelled after Ola, he said: “Our approach is not to follow competition; we are customer-obsessed. Our features are based on intensity of pain points and we accordingly prioritise our product roadmaps.” Uber said it has invested in sensitising the drivers on its platform, especially on women's safety, in partnership with Manas Foundation. They say at least 50,000 drivers in eight cities have been sensitised.