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China’s Didi pares back ‘hitchhiking’ car service following passenger murder

Didi Chuxing is making big changes to Hitch , its inter-city carpooling service, following the murder of a passenger at the hands of a driver earlier this month. Last week, Didi — Chinas dominant ride-hailing service by some margin — expressed its deep remorse for the murder, and suspended Hitch for a week to conduct a review of the service. Hitch, as the name suggests, is a hitchhiking-style service that groups people who are headed in the same direction together. Unlike Didis other services, it isnt commercial; passengers give the driver their share of fuel and any other costs they want to cover. That makes it affordable and hugely popular, but it has also made the service less professional than Didis other modes of transport. Indeed, many in China have claimed the service is sleazy, with many comments left about passenger appearances, particularly those who are female. The primary change will see Hitch available limited to daytime when the service resumes, with no new rides able to start between the hours of 10pm and 6am. In an apparent nod to the unsavory elements, Didi is scrubbing all Hitch driver and passenger reviews and ratings. Personal information for users will no longer be public, and profile photos will be replaced by generic images, Didi said. Beyond Hitch, Didi is also making changes to its driver authentication program. Thats down, in a large part, to the fact that the suspect in the murder of the passenger was not a verified Didi driver. He was able to use the app (on more than one occasion) by taking the smartphone belonging to his father, who is a verified Didi driver. Didis facial recognition technology, which verifies a drivers identity before granting them access to the service, failed in this instance — Didi said it was defective that day. Didi is closing down the option for its drivers to use other peoples cars with their permission, and implementing a zero tolerance policy on matching cars with their registered owners — a strange loophole that drew concern. The Didi service added an SOS button two years ago, and now it is aiming to refine that further by introducing automatic audio recording which is passed in real-time to a customer support agent once an SOS is activated. The firm said it is also weighing adding video in the future. Conscious of privacy concerns, the company said the audio would be stored remotely, not on a passengers device, and deleted within 72 hours if not needed for longer. We understand that not everyone is comfortable with having their trips recorded.  Additional user authorization may also be needed if in-vehicle video monitoring were to be introduced in the future, the company said. Nevertheless, this could be a most effective means to enhance safety standards, and to ensure adequate evidence support for potential dispute resolution, Didi added. Would this be an acceptable solution in the eyes of our users?Thats one of a series of questions put out by Didi, which said it will solicit opinions for potential safety measures. The company said it has booked proactive consultation sessions with relevant authorities and experts and it will also put out a call for comment on its social media channels. Didi is facing pressure from rival Meituan Dianping, which started out in local services but recently introduced ride-sharing services and moved into dockless bikes with the acquisition of Mobike. This is not the first time that Didi, which became Chinas single-largest ride-hailing company when it bought out Ubers local business in 2016, has dealt with the murder of a customer. Two years ago, a woman in Shenzhen was robbed and murdered by a Didi driver.

Didi sets new ridesharing safety measures following murder

Hitch will verify carpool drivers' identities before each trip. China's Didi Chuxing is rolling out new safety measures for its Hitch carpooling service after a driver allegedly killed a passenger last week. Drivers will need to verify their identities through facial recognition before each trip -- the alleged murderer, who was also found dead over the weekend, was using his father's Hitch account when he picked up the victim. Drivers using Didi's other ridesharing programs must pass a facial recognition test before each shift as well. Hitch suspended activities for a week following the killing, and will not allow trips between 10 PM and 6 AM while it explores additional safety measures for night-time rides. In the meantime, drivers and passengers taking a trip that's likely to end after 10 PM will receive a safety reminder before starting the ride. Previously, Hitch let drivers and passengers rate each others' profile pictures and tag images with sexually charged labels such as "goddesses" and "beauties." That feature drew criticism, as Bloomberg noted, and now Didi has nixed it. The company is deleting all of those tags and making personal information and profile photos private to each user -- default images will replace public profile photos. In addition, Didi is updating Hitch's emergency help feature, and it will display the button more prominently within the app. When passengers activate the feature, the app will record audio and prompt a customer representative to monitor the trip, while the passenger's emergency contacts will receive trip information. Users can also set up the button to call emergency services or Didi's own emergency hotline. The company is rolling out all of these measures by the end of the month. Didi is consulting with customers before enabling other safety protocols, such as an opt-in measure to record audio from each ride. Privacy concerns over such recordings might make them a step too far for some, though Didi insists the encrypted data will be stored only on its servers and not users' phones, and will be deleted after 72 hours. Didi hinted that video recordings may be in the pipeline too. Ridesharing safety has been in the spotlight this week beyond the Didi murder, with Uber and Lyft both ending forced arbitration in sexual assault cases, freeing victims to seek justice through the courts. Didi, meanwhile, is making inroads in North America: it's recruiting drivers in Mexico and it received a permit to test self-driving cars in California.