Uber explains why a search for “rape” in its customer support inbox gets thousands of results

How big is Uber’s sexual assault problem?
How big is Uber’s sexual assault problem?
Image: Reuters/Sergio Perez
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Searching Uber’s customer support inbox for “sexual assault” or “rape” turns up over 11,000 results, Buzzfeed reported on March 7, citing a former customer service representative who provided screen grabs of the search.

Dozens of cases of riders and drivers alleging sexual assault in Ubers have been reported throughout the US, and there is a lawsuit against the company alleging it has not done enough to keep women safe, but the over 11,000 figure is a rare attempt to quantify the problem. The search was “conducted on Uber’s Zendesk customer support platform from December 2012 through August 2015,” Buzzfeed reported.

Uber responded that the figure vastly overstates actual sexual assault and rape claims at the ride-sharing giant.

But Uber’s full response to Buzzfeed contains some puzzling explanations for the high number of “sexual assault” and “rape” related emails its customer service department has received, including:

  • Riders routinely misspell “rate” (as in the fare) as “rape”
  • Riders use the word “rape” in a context that doesn’t mean physical assault, for example writing “you raped my wallet”
  • There are a lot of drivers with the letters “R,A,P,E” in their name, which also show up in this search
  • People regularly email Uber’s customer service department about “unsubstantiated media reports of sexual assaults”
  • People using other ride-sharing companies mistakenly emailed Uber to complain about sexual assault incidents

When those emails were eliminated, the actual number of emails that were reporting “legitimate claims of sexual assault” comes down from 6,160 to 170, Uber claimed. And the number of emails that “allege an actual rape occurred” is just five, despite 5,180 emails containing the word “rape,” Uber said.

Uber would not allow a Buzzfeed reporter to personally verify the numbers.

Uber has increasingly been outsourcing its US customer service to the Philippines, as Quartz reported last year, and some customer service agents allege that important, time-sensitive emails (like ones about assault) are not being responded to in a timely fashion.