Uber Has New Tools for Fighting Fake Drivers: PIN Codes, Smiling, Blinking, and—Eventually—Ultrasound Waves Sent From Riders’ Phones
Uber is releasing five new features that aim to make its ride-hailing service safer for both riders and drivers who use its app.
The latest features, which will roll out over the next couple of months, give riders a PIN number they can use to verify they’re getting in the right car, allow in-app texting to 911, and alert riders if they’re going to be dropped off near or along a bike route. Uber is also strengthening its ID checks for drivers to prove the person at the wheel matches the person authorized by Uber. The ride hailing company is giving riders a way to report Uber driver incidents during a trip.
The safety features come after numerous reports of sexual assaults, kidnappings, and deaths from both riders and drivers using the service across the world. Last month, for example, a suspect was arrested in Maryland for allegedly shooting another passenger and his Uber driver after being picked up. In New York a 32-year-old Uber driver was charged with kidnapping and threatening to sexually assault a teenaged girl in July. And there have been several instances—and an associated death—of people faking to be Uber drivers in order to take advantage of unsuspecting riders.
The news also comes one week after Uber announced a new safety feature called RideCheck, which uses GPS and other smartphone sensors to detect a crash or whether the trip has gone off course. The idea is that if the feature is triggered, the company can then reach out to drivers or riders to ensure everything is alright.
Sachin Kansal, Uber’s head of safety product, tells Fortune that the features announced on Thursday aren’t a response to any specific incident. Rather they’re the result of efforts to make the service safer—something that was driven by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi upon his arrival two years ago. One year after the leadership change, Uber announced that it was opening a reported $64 million office and hiring about 150 technologists in Brazil to help improve the safety of the service.
“Dara came in and basically gave us a mandate that this was going to be a priority,” Kansal says. “We started to put together a comprehensive list of things we wanted to do.”
The core tenet of the mandate: Listen to Uber’s users, Kansal says. That means understanding when riders and drivers feel uncomfortable or unsafe and give them the tools to improve the experience.
One of the newest tools could help Uber control the rising number of people impersonating Uber drivers. Riders can now opt in to use a feature called Verify Your Ride, which can either be set for all rides or night rides between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
If the user has the setting on, drivers won’t be able to start their ride without inputting a four-digit PIN number that Uber sends the rider. Once the PIN is confirmed, drivers’ apps will continue the trip, and riders will receive a confirmation that their driver has been verified. The feature is expected to debut in some parts of the U.S. beginning in November and expand over time.
Kansal says the company has already developed the next version of this feature that will use ultrasound waves to communicate between the drivers’ and riders’ phones for automatic verification. Uber is still tweaking the feature but expects to debut it in the next “few months,” Kansal says.
Another feature that could potentially cut down on fake Uber drivers is the company’s new Liveliness Detection Tool, which asks drivers to perform a random series of basic movements like blinking or smiling to confirm a person’s identity. In 2016, Uber rolled out a real-time ID check that asked drivers to take a selfie to prove they were who they said they were. The Liveliness Detection Tool, that will make its debut next month, is expected to add an extra layer of security. Uber says the company does not store any data related to the tool.
In the next few months, Uber also will give riders easier access to report problems during a ride. Now, in addition to having the ability to call 911 from within the app—a feature it released in May—Uber riders can also text emergency responders with the tap of a button. The capability, which will first be available in Los Angeles next month, will preload a text message with the car make and model, destination, and current location associated with the trip.
Riders will also be able to report Uber driver incidents during a ride by tapping on the safety tool kit in the app. Uber said a member of its safety team will follow up on the report after the trip. That feature is scheduled to be available to half the country next month and expand globally thereafter.
And finally, to make the drop off safer, Uber will send riders an in-app notification when they are dropped off near or along a bike lane. The feature already exists in four cities in the U.S. and Canada, but will become available in 211 cities worldwide by the end of October.
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