Uber says that its customer service arm recieved five claims of rape and about 170 claims of sexual assault between December 2012 and August 2015. The ride-hailing company provided the numbers to BuzzFeed News as a rebuttal to leaked screenshots of its customer service platform, which show separate search queries for “rape” and “sexual assault,” each returning thousands of inquiries from customers.
The high number of search results for these terms, Uber wrote in a response posted on Medium, may be due to inquiries by customers and drivers with the letters that make up the word “rape” in their names, such as “Don Draper;” expressions like “you raped my wallet”; and inquiries from “passengers who got into cars not on the Uber platform, or who were discussing unsubstantiated media reports of sexual assaults.”
Uber declined a request from BuzzFeed News to review the data analysis procedure that determines how many claims of rape and sexual assault had been reported. Uber also declined to grant direct access to the data or provide any information about the complaints it has received.
The startup defended these actions in its blog post, which was signed by chief safety officer Joe Sullivan, VP of communications and public policy Jill Hazelbaker, and vice president of global support Tim Collins: “It is unfair to suggest that you cannot trust the veracity of the numbers Uber has provided without personally verifying them, which would be a serious breach of our riders’ and drivers’ privacy.”
The screenshots were leaked amid concern about passenger safety in taxis and cars hired through ride-hailing apps. Uber, which said it had 160,000 active drivers in the U.S. at the end of 2014, has argued that its app provides riders with extra security because they can see driver information before they get into the car and every trip is GPS tracked, but others have criticized the type of background check that app-based car dispatchers use, which does not include a fingerprint component.
In New York City, which had 132,219 licensed for-hire drivers at the end of 2014, there were 14 reported rapes inside of taxicabs, livery cabs, or other for-hire vehicles last year.
Update: Uber updated its blog post with the following statement: “Zendesk, one of our customer support platforms, contacted us to say that their search tool would not return a name such as “Don Draper” when searching for the word “rape.” However, such a search would (and did) return names that start with the letters R,A,P,E — even if the ticket itself had nothing to do with a claim of rape. We apologize to Zendesk for using an imperfect (and fictitious) example that doesn’t accurately represent their search functionality.”