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China’s carpooling startup Didi sets new ridesharing safety measures following murder

China’s Didi Chuxing is rolling out new safety measures for its Hitch carpooling service after a driver allegedly killed a passenger last week.

Last week, Didi — China’s 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.

Following the new measures, 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.

Didi will also 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.

Hitch, as the name suggests, is a hitchhiking-style service that groups people who are headed in the same direction together. Unlike Didi’s other services, it isn’t 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 Didi’s 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.

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.

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.

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