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Recording rides won’t fix Uber’s assault problem, lawyers say, but it’s a start

Thorough background checks, kicking accused predators off the apps, reporting assaults to police, and working more closely with authorities. These might be reasonable ways for ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft to deal with the tsunami of complaints the companies face from riders who say their drivers have sexually assaulted them. Or, more easily, you could just record your ride on your phone.

Indeed, Uber on Wednesday announced it would be rolling out a new feature on the app: The ability to make audio recordings of rides and send the audio to the company in the case of severe misconduct.

What’s more, attorneys who represent the plethora of survivors who have experienced an assault in a rideshare agree that this is “a step in the right direction,” even if it’s not an all-out solution.

Uber confirmed to Digital Trends that they had piloted the program in Brazil and Mexico, and designed the feature to comply with local laws in all pilot cities, but declined to specify how it would look as it was rolled out worldwide.

The rider or the driver can choose to make the recording through the app (it’s not an automated process), but Uber declined to say if it would also accept recordings or videos made through other apps as evidence as well. The idea would be to promote accountability and protect privacy, while still allowing the Uber safety team to take decisive action. Both the Uber and Lyft apps already have a type of “panic button” feature within their apps so passengers can contact authorities faster.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Laurel Simes, a partner at the law firm Levin Simes Abrams, which lists “Uber/Lyft Cases” as one of the top specialties on their website.

“This means Uber is looking at these issues seriously, which is the right thing to do,” she told Digital Trends. “I agree with the move.”

Simes said in her experience, the trouble in a rideshare begins with talking. “If someone knows they’re going to be recorded, that will change the entire landscape.” For one, it would give the rider something to show to the authorities, and it would make her job easier as an attorney for victims.

Stephen Estey, partner at the law firm Estey & Bomberger, told Digital Trends that drivers knowing they are being recorded could have a possible deterrent effect. He and his law partner have been inundated with sexual assault cases related to ride-sharing services — so many that they registered the website ubersexualassaultlawyer.com. Both Estey and Simes said their firms were handling over 100 cases of assault claims against Uber and Lyft. “The phones are ringing off the hook,” Estey said.

As of last year, over 100 Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse, according to CNN.

Estey was less optimistic than Simes about how the overall assault numbers would be affected.

“The problem is most of these assaults are against women who have been drinking,” he said. “So they’re taking an Uber for the right reasons — they don’t want to drink and drive — but they would have to have their wits about them to make a recording.” Furthermore, he added, after an assault, often the driver will steal the person’s phone. Estey called Uber’s new policy a “reactive approach.”

“It’s a Band-Aid,” he said. “They’ve created a platform for predators. With minimal background checks and no supervision, if you’re a predator, you go where the fishing is good.”

Simes’s view was that everyone should simply be making recordings of their trips all the time anyway. It should automatic when one gets in a rideshare now. “Sure, you need to be awake enough to do it,” she said. “Just always be recording.”

“Everyone knows this is an issue,” Simes said. “It’s being worked on now. It can’t go on forever, and it won’t.”

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Maya Shwayder
I'm a multimedia journalist currently based in New England. I previously worked for DW News/Deutsche Welle as an anchor and…
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