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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, 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.