WHAT PRIVACY CONCERNS?

China’s ride-hailing giant is offering to make passengers feel safer by recording them

When a female passenger was murdered last week, the backlash against Didi Chuxing was swift, prompting the Chinese ride-hailing giant to apologize and temporarily shut down one of its carpooling services so it could review how it could make the platform safer.

Didi today (May 16) released the first part of its plans to improve safety for passengers, and they include a proposal to record the audio of every trip taken on the platform—something it said was proposed both internally and by the public. The company will seek feedback from authorities and users before implementing audio recording on its app, but noted that users would have to give their consent to turn on the feature.

Recordings would be stored for 72 hours before they are deleted from Didi’s servers, according to the firm. Didi is also considering adding in-vehicle video monitoring as a way to collect evidence to help settle disputes between drivers and passengers. “Would this be considered an acceptable solution in the eyes of our users?” Didi asked in a blog post.

These plans come as Didi attempts to recover from a public-relations nightmare after the body of a 21-year-old flight attendant was found half naked and with multiple stab wounds on May 8. The woman, who was returning home from the airport in Zhengzhou, had used Didi’s Hitch service, which allows car owners to pick up commuters going in the same direction.

The primary suspect in the case was her driver, a 29-year-old man named Liu Zhenhua whose body was found in a river over the weekend. Liu had bypassed one of the app’s security features, a facial-recognition check to confirm drivers’ identities, to drive under his father’s account. His father later said he had not registered to drive for Hitch (link in Chinese).

So far, Didi has already received more than 15,000 comments on its Weibo post (link in Chinese) asking for feedback, and users generally do not seem perturbed by privacy concerns. “I raise both of my hands to support recording and surveillance!” said one commenter. “Which matters more? Your privacy or your safety?”

But some drivers weren’t on board. “I disagree with the idea to record or having any form of surveillance because I would like to have some privacy in my own car,” said another Weibo user.

In addition to its recording proposals, Didi detailed a number of changes specific to Hitch that will go into effect before it resumes service on Saturday (May 19). The changes include mandating a facial-recognition check for every trip, and stopping service everyday from 10pm to 6am.

By the end of the month, Didi will make some wider changes to other parts of its app as well. It will redesign the SOS button to make it more prominent and allow users to contact police or send for an ambulance by clicking on it. Currently, clicking the button triggers an audio recording that a customer service representative monitors in real time, and automatically shares trip information with users’ emergency contacts.

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