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Uber SA beefs up security with audio-recording feature

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 06 Sept 2022
As of Thursday, Uber will allow riders and drivers to audio record their trip.
As of Thursday, Uber will allow riders and drivers to audio record their trip.

Uber South Africa has introduced a new opt-in audio-recording feature to enable riders and drivers to record the trip for evidence collection, in the case of a safety incident.

According to Uber, the new audio-recording feature will initially be piloted in Pretoria and Johannesburg, starting from Thursday this week.

The in-app function has been successful in the US and Latin American regions where it was introduced a few years ago, particularly serving as evidence in dispute resolution incidents.

Uber believes the audio-recording tool will improve the overall quality of evidence collected on the safety cases that are reported by both riders and drivers. Both riders and drivers will have the ability to record the trip and submit their recordings during instances where an incident report has been submitted by either.

By logging a safety incident along with the recording, the rider or driver gives Uber the permission to access the file for investigation purposes.

Kagiso Khaole, GM for Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, tells ITWeb that with safety and crime being topical issues in SA, the continuous introduction of safety features forms part of the-e-hailing firm’s strategy to ensure safety for riders and drivers.

“We believe that this feature will improve the conduct of users of the Uber app, as drivers and riders hold each other accountable every step of the way.

“Verbal altercations, sexual misconduct and other violations can be difficult to investigate without evidence; however, we are confident that this new feature will assist Uber in adjudicating such incidents to ensure that the appropriate action is taken,” he explains.

The feature, which works by allowing users to press the shield icon on the app and select “record audio”, is something that drivers have been asking for based on their feedback from roundtable sessions, adds Khaole.

The audio file is encrypted and stored on the respective rider and driver’s devices, but no one can listen to the audio – not even Uber. The audio can only be accessed and listened to if either the rider or driver decides to submit a safety report.

The past few years have seen e-hailing drivers holding nationwide protests across all provinces, urging government to intervene in the increasing spate of crimes they are subjected to. In other cases, riders have expressed concerns over their safety, with some even being allegedly robbed or raped at the hands of ride-hailing drivers.

In 2018 Chinese e-hailing firm Didi Chuxing introduced an in-car audio recording function following the alleged murders of two female passengers by Didi drivers.

In June Uber announced a partnership with AURA, a local on-demand smart emergency response app, to provide users with access to a vetted private security response unit, which is closest to their location, when a medical or safety emergency occurs.

Khaole concludes: “We’re always looking at ways to improve safety on the app. All trips are GPS-tracked, for instance the RideCheck feature can detect unusual routes, and loved ones of users can follow their route in real-time, and they can get private emergency help through the app at the push of a button. We’ll keep working to develop and deliver new features to help enhance the safety and give users more peace of mind when using Uber.”