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Didi, ride-sharing giant of China, overhauls service after passenger is killed

While Uber is still reeling from the fatal crash involving one of its self-driving cars, the ride-sharing companys Chinese rival is grappling with its own tragic death. Didi Chuxing announced today that it would be revamping its app after a passenger was raped and killed by her driver. The passenger, 21-year-old flight attendant Li Mingzhu, was found dead on Saturday after hailing a car from Didi in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, according to state media. Police are still searching for the Didi driver, surnamed Liu, who abandoned his vehicle and jumped into a river after allegedly killing Li. Didi has faced a growing outcry from passengers in recent days, especially from women who complain that the app allows drivers to leave comments on their profiles regarding their appearances. In China, Didi offers a number of services, including Didi Hitch, a car-pooling service, which Li was using at the time of her death. Passengers and drivers typically upload photos to their user profiles, and the app allows drivers to attach notes to a riders image. According to The New York Times, some passengers say they think the feature crossed a line. Su Shiya, 21, a student in southern China, examined her Didi profile and found that drivers had tagged her as an intellectual beauty and a sweetheart. These comments are open to all the Didi drivers, she said. They all know what I look like. She said she found the comments chilling, and has since replaced her image with that of an animated dog. Didi said it suspended its carpooling service on May 12th as it enacts several new safety features. The company says it removed all personalized tags and ratings features that were part of the Hitch service as well as user photos. Personal information and profile pictures of passengers and car-owners will be visible only to the individual himself or herself, the company says. All publicly-displayed profile pictures will be replaced with a system-generated default image. Didi is making facial recognition compulsory for drivers on Hitch to minimize the risk of unapproved account use. A zero tolerance policy will be introduced for Didis other ride-hailing services to ensure driver fidelity. China is notorious for its drivers faking accounts and rides. Sometimes, multiple drivers share an account or unregistered drivers borrow their friends phones and split earnings. After it resumes, Hitch will also be suspended every night between 10PM and 6AM as Didi evaluates the effectiveness of its safety upgrades. An emergency help button will also be more prominently displayed on the apps home screen. We are committed to fully taking our due legal responsibilities related to traffic accident, public security, criminal cases, and disputes on our platform, the company says. Lis death came at a particularly sensitive moment for Didi, which is the largest ride-hailing service in the world with over 450 million users. The company just launched in Mexico, its first foray into a North American market. There, it will resume its rivalry with Uber for the first time since acquiring Ubers Chinese business in 2016. Didi also recently received a license to test self-driving cars in California. The move comes over a year after the company opened a Silicon Valley-based research lab to develop autonomous driving technology.

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.