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China’s Didi removes social features from carpooling service after passenger murder

( 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)

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.