Uber rejects accusation of thousands of sexual assaults

Leaked screenshots published by Buzzfeed appear to show thousands of customer complaints about sexual assaults, but the ride-sharing company says this doesn't match the real data.

Katie Collins
Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
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Uber's safety record is under scrutiny.


Ride-hailing app maker Uber has hit back at claims that thousands of its customers have filed complaints about sexual assaults.

In a blog post Sunday, Uber addressed a Buzzfeed article from earlier in the day that claimed to offer a "glimpse" into sexual assault complaints fielded by the company. The article was based on apparent leaked screenshots that seem to show search results for reports lodged with Uber's internal customer complaints system. Searches for the term "sexual assault" returned 6,160 results, and the word "rape" delivered 5,827 matching tickets.

But Uber Chief Safety Officer Joe Sullivan and two other executives said the report "fails to take into account the many facts we have provided to Buzzfeed."

Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are still relatively new and are generally thought to be safe for passengers, due to GPS tracking, route sharing and mutual ratings by drivers and passengers. But there have still been well-publicized, negative encounters between passengers and drivers, including rapes. To combat such problems, Uber screens all drivers for criminal records and immediately suspends drivers if accusations are made against them. When needed, the company alerts law enforcement.

In its rebuttal, Uber said "even one incident is too many" but also shared its data on sexual assaults.

Between December 2012 and August 2015, the company said, five tickets on Uber's global customer complaints system allege a rape, which equates to 0.0000009 percent of rides that took place across this period. Altogether, Uber added, 170 tickets have reported a "legitimate claim of sexual assault," which is equal to 1 in every 3.3 million trips. In December, Uber completed its billionth journey.

The San Francisco-based company offered three reasons why the results listed in the screenshots published are misleading:

  • Riders routinely misspell "rate" as "rape" or use the word "rape" in another context.
  • The word "rape" can appear within another word, particularly a name, such as Don Draper.
  • Some complaints were from passengers who got into non-Uber cars or who were discussing "unsubstantiated media reports of sexual assaults."

Because of those sorts of problems, Uber manually examines each complaint, the company said.

Buzzfeed did not immediately respond to a request for comment.