A year and a half after Uber announced it was “getting serious about safety” as a response to the horrific deluge of reports about drivers committing murders and sexual assaults, the ride-share giant is planning a program that will record audio of rides in the US.
Earlier this month, Uber unveiled its plans to pilot an in-app audio recording feature in Brazil and Mexico, beginning in December. As Reuters reported, Uber has acknowledged it has seen a spike of robberies, rapes, and murders of passengers and drivers in Latin America. At the time, Uber said it might eventually expand the program to other regions.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that it reviewed an internal email written by an executive at Uber that stated the company plans to trial the feature in the US “soon.” The email’s authenticity was reportedly confirmed by Uber.
A source with knowledge of Uber’s plans told Gizmodo that the company is looking to expand the pilot to the US but a timeline isn’t currently available.
If Uber introduces the feature in US markets, it would be a new addition to the app’s Safety Toolkit, which includes safety check-ins, and in-app emergency calls. The recording feature would apparently allow passengers to opt-in.
The internal email reportedly states that when the feature becomes available in a particular market, users in that area will probably see a warning that trips may be recorded.
“When the trip ends, the user will be asked if everything is okay and be able to report a safety incident and submit the audio recording to Uber with a few taps,” said the email, according to the Post. “The encrypted audio file is sent to Uber’s customer support agents who will use it to better understand an incident and take the appropriate action.”
The email acknowledges that the company may face challenges implementing this feature in America. “Laws in the United States around consent to being recorded can vary from state to state, but we hope to be able to make this available nationally,” reads the email, according to the Post.
The email also reportedly says the audio will not be available to drivers or riders. When Uber announced the pilot of the feature in Latin America the company said the company would review recordings if a rider or driver reported crimes or transgressions, and that it would give the audio to law enforcement upon request.
Uber head of safety products, Sachin Kansal, told the Post that the feature is meant to convey to rider and drivers the sense that “the lights are on,” so to speak, explaining that it “leads to safer interaction on the platform.”
Uber did not address Gizmodo’s questions about how it plans to address ethical and privacy concerns.
Uber told the Post it is considering at least some of the multitude of privacy and security concerns the feature will present – such as what the app will allow when a rider wants to record a carpool ride in a two-party consent state. It seems there’s a non-zero chance that such a feature will violate consent laws and erode user privacy if implemented across America.
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