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Didi revamps car pooling safety

Hong Kong

DIDI Chuxing is overhauling safety measures across its business after a female customer of its Hitch carpooling service was allegedly murdered by a driver using its app in China.

Hitch has been marketed as a social ride-sharing service, allowing drivers and passengers to label or rate each other by appearance. Such features attracted criticism as the platform was rife with comments that marked female passengers as "goddesses" and "beauties".

Didi said it will delete all personalised tags for Hitch and make personal profiles and pictures only visible to the users themselves, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Driver facial recognition will also become compulsory for every Hitch trip while the car pooling service will be halted from 10pm to 6am daily as it evaluates safety for night-time trips.

Didi has been under intense scrutiny since state media reported that a driver used his father's account to pick up and kill a woman in Zhengzhou. That forced the Beijing-based company to suspend Hitch for a week so it could review operations, with all the initiatives to be implemented before the car pooling business resumes service.

The company also announced a range of measures across its other services, including using facial recognition every day to ensure drivers match their approved vehicles on its Express, Premier and Luxe platforms.

Formally known as Xiaoju Kuaizhi Inc, the company said it will also redesign its emergency help button to display it more prominently on the app interface. Once the button is clicked, real-time audio recording will begin, and a special customer representative will monitor the alert.

The trip information will also be shared with the users' emergency contacts. Users can also chose to link the emergency button to police or ambulance hotlines. The broader measures will kick in by the end of May.

Didi is also seeking public input on other measures before deciding on implementing them. These include voice recording every ride in the future, a function that would require user consent, that it can use to settle disputes and determine responsibility.

Didi said the recordings will be encrypted and stored on its servers - not on users' phones - and automatically wiped clean after 72 hours. It said it might also request user authorisation in the future if in-vehicle video monitoring is introduced. BLOOMBERG