Uber Brings Safety-Inspired Audio Recording to Three U.S. Cities

Asia's Tech News Daily

Photo credit: CasarsaGuru – Getty Images

  • In a new Uber pilot program, drivers and riders can both start a recording from within the Uber app if they feel it's warranted for safety reasons, and the other party will not be notified. Uber says neither the person who made the recording nor Uber has access to the encrypted recording unless and until a safety report is filed.

  • Uber introduced the audio monitoring program in Latin America almost two years ago and will now offer it in Kansas City, Louisville, and Raleigh-Durham.

  • Uber has tried various methods to improve safety for both riders and drivers. It shares data with Lyft on drivers who have been “deactivated for serious safety incidents with peers,” intending to prevent them from working for another ride-sharing company.

Uber's safety record has never been spotless, but the company keeps trying new ways to make sure its drivers and riders stay safe. Almost two years ago, Uber introduced a feature called Audio Recording in Latin America as a way to make people using Uber there feel more safe. The feature is now available in more than a dozen countries throughout Latin America, including Brazil and Mexico.

Uber announced this week that it will soon start offering Audio Recording as a pilot program in Kansas City, Louisville, and Raleigh-Durham. Sachin Kansal, Uber's vice president of product management, gave three reasons for offering this feature in the U.S. now: “to help encourage safe and comfortable interactions while on a trip, determine what happened, and identify the best response after a safety-related incident,” he wrote on the company blog.

Even without Audio Recording in the Uber app, anyone with a smartphone can simply record their Uber ride using the phone's built-in tools, ofcourse. But there are some benefits to using the app's integrated system. Uber says the recording gets encrypted using AES encryption Galois/Counter Mode and that the file gets stored on your phone in such a way that no one can access it (not even you, or Uber) unless you file a safety report with the company. At that point, Uber's Safety Support team gets involved and will be able to listen to the recording and, if necessary, share it with law enforcement. If a user somehow deletes the recording, Uber can't recover it since it resides on the phone.

Other technical details to know include the fact that the app can't record audio if you are talking to someone on the phone and that only the person making the recording will know that audio in the car is being recorded (in other words, the driver is not notified if a rider starts feeling uncomfortable and hits Record). Also, the recording automatically ends not long after the trip ends, for riders, while drivers can have their entire shift recorded if they want, as the recording only stops when they go offline or they choose to end it.

Uber also already has an in-app emergency button. If a user presses it, it can relay information including license plate number, vehicle information, and live location to a 911 operator. There's no word yet on whether this recording feature will expand to other cities beyond the three in the pilot program.

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