Uber Issues Incredibly Lame Response to Rape Allegations

The ride-sharing service has been scrambling after a damning investigation into claims mentioning rape.

A man hand holding Uber app showing on iPhone 6 plus,Uber is smartphone app-based transportation network.
Photo Credit: d8nn /

On Sunday, BuzzFeed published a damning report of huge numbers of Uber customers' comments that mention "rape" or "sexual assault." This discovery was made after Uber had provided BuzzFeed News with what turned out to be a severely downplayed report of five rapes and "fewer than" 170 "legitimate claim[s] of sexual assault" from 2012 to 2015. But BuzzFeed shared a former Uber employee's screenshots of user feedback with far higher numbers that contained the phrases "rape" or "sexual assault": a whopping 5,800 results for "rape" and 6,160 for "sexual assault" from 2012 to 2015. 

Uber's response to the wide discrepancy consisted of questionable statements that created a ping-pong match with BuzzFeed and Uber PR, which seemed to treat the issue of protecting its customers from the dangers of rape and sexual assault as a trifling publicity issue rather than the serious safety concern it is.

The first part of Uber's defense was that "rape" could be a common typo for "rate." Jezebel mocked the absurdity of the chances of the statistical significance of such an outrageous typo happening often enough to matter.

Uber also tried to explain that any hits on a name that includes the "letters R, A, P, E consecutively (for example, Don Draper)" would match. Uber later recanted this weak defense, apologizing for the "imperfect (and fictitious) example." Fictitious on two levels: neither Mad Men nor the actual system's workings are to blame.

Uber's final justification was that the comments could have come from discussions of "unsubstantiated media reports of sexual assaults," unrelated to their personal experience using Uber. At first, it makes sense that these comments are less relevant to a survey of those who experienced sexual assault or rape for themselves, but it is still of note that it is concern enough for passengers to use the forum of rating their experience to inquire or comment on the failings of the company to address sexual assault and rape in a clear-cut way within its company and to the public.

Most disturbing is that Uber has essentially neither denied occurrences of rape or sexual assault in its vehicles, nor acknowledged its poor policies and announced plans to change them. 

Instead, Uber said, "Our analysis for all of these results shows five tickets that allege an actual rape occurred (0.0000009% of rides in the three years from December 2012 to August 2015) and 170 tickets with a legitimate claim of sexual assault (1 in every 3.3 million trips)."

The ride-sharing service acknowledged their numbers are underreported as well, because law enforcement may be the first place these incidents are reported rather than on an Uber ticket.

Not exactly reassuring to the riding public.

Jenny Pierson is a managing editor and assistant publisher at AlterNet.

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