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.
( Reuters) — Chinas biggest ride-sharing company, Didi Chuxing, will disable features such as profile pictures, ratings and public tags from its carpooling service, as it looks to win back trust following the killing of a passenger that sparked questions about safety. The 21-year-old female passenger, a flight attendant, was killed this month while traveling from an airport hotel to the Eastern Chinese city Zhengzhous downtown area, allegedly by her driver who bypassed defective safety controls in the app. Didi said it will disable carpooling at night and make facial recognition checks compulsory for drivers. It also proposed recording audio for every trip as an added security measure on its carpooling feature Didi Hitch that has been temporarily suspended this week. The ride-sharing firm has already apologized for the death of the passenger. Didi has said its facial recognition mechanism was defective and had failed to verify the driver who allegedly killed the passenger. The male suspect had used a driver account that belonged to his father, contrary to Didis policy, the company has said. Following news of the death, users have criticized Didis efforts to market Hitch as a social carpooling service, which allowed drivers to create public tags for passengers including physical features, gender and age. On Wednesday, Didi said profile pictures on the service will be replaced with generic images and that the service will only be available from 6 am to 10 pm. It also said it would extend facial recognition requirements to its other services and redesign its emergency help function. Didi Chuxing — which is valued at $50 billion and counts SoftBank Group Corp as a major investor — is expanding heavily overseas, targeting new markets in Mexico, Brasil and Australia where it will come head-to-head with Uber. After acquiring Ubers China business in 2016, Didi controls over 90 percent of the countrys ride-hailing market, giving users few alternative options, although new players have begun to edge their way into the market. ( Reporting by Cate Cadell and Pei Li; Editing by Himani Sarkar)