Uber will test a new safety feature in Kansas City that allows both drivers and passengers to record interactions during trips.
Beginning Tuesday, customers can opt into the audio recording service, which is aimed at preventing safety problems and investigating complaints after they’re made. While the feature has been used in some capacity in Latin America since 2019, Uber is just now trying it in the United States, with pilots in Kansas City, Louisville, Kentucky, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
In 2019, the rideshare company announced it had received more than 3,000 reports of sexual assault the previous year. Those included a near-equal split of accusations against drivers and passengers.
Here’s how the new audio tool works: Passengers who feel uncomfortable at any time during a trip can choose to begin recording the ride in their Uber app. Likewise, drivers can record all or part of a ride. The recordings are encrypted and stored on the user’s device for up to 15 days.
“We firmly believe in two-way accountability. This new audio recording safety feature is another tool that will help empower both drivers and riders and give them added peace of mind when they are on a trip,” Sachin Kasal, Uber’s vice president of product management, said in a statement.
Company officials say they won’t access the recordings unless an incident report is filed by a driver or passenger, and neither party can listen to them. Those recordings could be turned over to law enforcement during criminal investigations.
The audio recording feature is currently being used in 14 countries with positive results. Uber said nearly 70% of riders and drivers in Rio de Janeiro, for instance, reported feeling safer while using the feature.
“So far this has been positively received in Latin America and we’re looking forward to see the usage and reception in our first pilots in the U.S.,” said Neil Chopra, senior product manager on the company’s safety team. “There’s definitely more of a feeling of safety when we surveyed folks in those markets.”
Chopra said the feature will require minimal storage on user phones. Generally, a one-hour audio recording takes up about 10 megabytes of space, he said. And users, although they can’t hear the recordings, can delete them off their phone at any time.
Uber has not announced a timeline for the pilot program.
So far, the company is only testing the feature in states where the law requires only one-party consent of recording. In some states, both parties must consent, but not in Kansas and Missouri.
That means riders can turn the recording feature on at any time without the driver’s knowledge. Likewise, a driver could run the feature continuously without notifying every individual passenger.
Still, Uber says it will notify all Kansas City drivers and passengers Tuesday of the new feature. Riders will receive a notification when ordering a car that their driver may have enabled the feature. The company says customers can cancel the trip if they don’t want to be recorded.
Nothing stops drivers and riders from shooting video or recording audio on their phones now. In fact, Uber already allows drivers to record trips with dash cams if they’re allowed by local law.
But the company said this internal system will help investigate complaints, which often result in contrary stories from the driver and passenger. The internal recording allows Uber to verify the audio’s authenticity and ensures neither party tampered with it.
Still, the company says the recordings will be kept mostly private. Neither drivers or passengers can listen to them or post them online. And Uber says it will only retrieve audio once a complaint is made. Otherwise, apps will automatically delete those recordings after 15 days.
“We have no access to it,” Chopra said. “If they send it to us, that’s the only time we are able to review it as part of a safety investigation.”