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Uber deepens security features and ties up with local police control rooms for emergencies

Control room setup tested in Kolkata


Online cab hailing service Uber has upgraded its in-app SOS button and now will have closer coordination with local police control rooms in case of an emergency. The company mentioned on its blog that when users press the SOS button it places a call with local law enforcement and will generate an alert automatically and send it directly to the local police control room.

The alert contains critical trip information including exact vehicle location (tracked via GPS). This information is projected on a dedicated screen in the control room of local law enforcement set up by Uber’s safety experts. Uber had earlier in February debuted its SOS button and also had a feature called SafetyNet which allows users to easily share their trip details and real-time location with up to 5 friends and family members.

Uber added that it has successfully tested the control room integration in Kolkata and that they are in advanced discussions with authorities in multiple cities across India to deploy the solution in the coming weeks.

Control room setup tested in Kolkata

Control room setup tested in Kolkata

Uber’s timeline on security 

– Following the rape of a woman in Delhi by one of the service’s drivers, Uber had introduced an improved ShareMyETA button in December that allows passengers to send their complete trip details (including live GPS tracking, driver photo, name and vehicle license number). The company also said that it will be setting up a local and dedicated customer support center that will specialise on resolving critical issues for Uber riders and its driver community in India. In the same month Uber’s operations were shut down by the Delhi government.

–  In January, Uber was sued by the Delhi rape victim for negligence & fraud in the US federal court, and the victim had hired New York-based litigator Douglas Wigdor. Wigdor has apparently said in the lawsuit that Uber’s focus on its bottom line over the safety of its passengers has led to what he describes as “modern day electronic hitchhiking” and this lawsuit should bring about changes that will protect people globally who are unaware of the risks of entering an Uber car.

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–  In February, Uber in India  hired First Advantage, a company which runs background checks, to bring in additional layers of screening over and above its standard transport licensing process which includes address verification, a local criminal court search, and a national criminal database search.

– The same month, Uber tied-up with location-based mobile safety app Safetipin to enable Uber’s partner drivers to collect area data across Delhi  to improve passenger safety. Uber drivers will collect night-time road and city conditions using exterior mounted camera phones at regular intervals. Each photograph captured by the drivers will be tagged with a Safetipin safety score based on nine predetermined parameters, including lighting, openness, visibility, security, walk path, crowd and gender diversity and density. The company mentions that it will share this data with the government and work with them to improve safety in the city.

– In April, Uber sought to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Delhi rape victim for negligence & fraud in January. According to the company, the driver was contracted with its Netherlands-based entity Uber B.V, which doesn’t operate in US and so has no relationship with Uber US. It’s worth noting that the rape charges against a Uber Chicago driver were dropped earlier this week, after new evidence was presented to the court.

– The Indian government softened its stance on online cab aggregators and ruled out banning cab-hailing apps like Uber and Ola, but will be imposing conditions to make their operations safer. The transport ministry is also likely to issue an advisory within the next three weeks to all state governments to regulate these services under the Motor Vehicles Act. The pan India bill is expected to be finalized this month, although it will not be legally binding. The Centre will urge the state governments to accept the guidelines and provide them with a list of dos and don’ts to provide a level playing field, although if to implement this or not will lie up to the state governments.

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