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Uber Promises Better Passenger Security After India Rape Case

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Uber vows to improve safety for passengers after criticism of Uber's lax security measures has reached a peak with allegations that an Uber driver in India raped a female passenger.

In a blog post, Uber's new head of global safety Phil Cardenas, whose work include building a safety program for travel rental app Airbnb, says Uber is ramping up its security measures for passengers and drivers. Exactly what these measures are, however, Cardenas does not make clear, although he says the company has started looking into technologies such as biometrics and voice recognition and methods such as polygraph testing to improve background checks and driver screening.

Cardenas says Uber is also building a safety incident response team that can be reached by passengers and drivers 24/7 in the event of an emergency. Most recently, Cardenas says Uber has hired former head of Amazon's Europe operations Tim Collins to head Uber's customer service team, which needs to grow on the same scale as fast as the ride-sharing services company is growing.

Uber also says it will partner with women's safety, conflict resolution and road safety experts to provide recommendations on how best to approach safety issues that crop up in Uber's more than 260 international markets. In fact, the company has already struck a deal with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) to provide training for customer service representatives on responding to gender abuse issues.

On top of that, Uber is also investing in new ways to let its users communicate with Uber and their families during times of crisis. The new technology, Uber says, will be built on the existing ShareMyETA feature, which lets passengers know when to expect their Uber driver to pick them up.

"Of course, no background check can predict future behavior and no technology can yet fully prevent bad actions," Cardenas says. "But our responsibility is to leverage every smart tool at our disposal to set the highest standard in safety we can. We will not shy away from this task."

The statement veers far from Uber's usually aggressive stance that it employs an "industry-leading background check process" on its drivers, a claim that has led the District Attorneys of Los Angeles and San Francisco to file a lawsuit against the transportation company for making misleading statements about the safety of Uber's users.

Earlier this month, the uproar over Uber's background checks reached a whole new level when a 27-year-old female passenger in New Delhi accused Uber driver Shiv Kumar Yadav, who was discovered by local media to be a repeat sexual offender, of raping her. The passenger says she dozed off during the ride and, upon waking up, saw that Yadav had climbed over to the backseat next to her.

Just days after, a report from Newsweek surfaced saying Uber allegedly offered £20 to one very unhappy Uber passenger who claims to have been sexually harassed by her driver.

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