The ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft reportedly teamed up to create a database of drivers ousted from their services for complaints about sexual assault and other crimes that have raised passenger-safety concerns for years. The database will initially list drivers expelled by the ride-hailing rivals in the U.S., but it will also be open to other companies that deploy workers to perform services like grocery and food delivery from restaurants.
Dubbed the “sharing safety program,” the database will be overseen by the company HireRight, which specializes in background checks. The use of a third party is meant to address potential legal concerns about companies, including competitors like Uber and Lyft, having access to information to each other’s personnel matters.
In an interview with the Associated Press and quoted by the U.S. News, Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West said: “Lyft and Uber are competitors in a whole lot of ways, but on this issue of safety, we completely agree that folks should be safe no matter what platform they choose.”
The safety program follows through on a promise that Uber made 15 months ago when it revealed that more than 3,000 sexual assaults had been reported on its service in the U.S. during 2018.
Back in Dec. 2020, The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) fined Uber and threatened to suspend their license to operate in the state after the company refused to share detailed information on sexual assault and harassment claims reported on its ride-hailing platform. The company refused to share the information, including full names and contact information, arguing that doing so would violate victims’ rights to privacy. The CPUC had ruled that Uber had 30 days until Jan. 2021 to comply. That same month, Uber appealed the $59 million fine.
It was reported that “since the revelation” of the sexual assaults reported, Uber and Lyft have been working through antitrust and privacy concerns in order to create a way to flag drivers who have engaged in violent or other bad behavior that culminated in them being kicked off their services.
According to Lyft’s head of policy development, Jennifer Brandenburger, because victims of sexual assault frequently don’t file formal complaints with police, sharing the information about these reported crimes is considered especially important for the companies. She further said that this gap has enabled potentially dangerous drivers to slip through routine background checks drawing upon legal records.
In order to protect privacy, the database will not share passenger information. What will be shared, though, are the incidents that resulted in a driver’s dismissal, which will be listed in six broad categories: attempted non-consensual sexual penetration; non-consensual touching of a sexual body part; non-consensual kissing of a sexual body part; non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part; non-consensual sexual penetration; and fatal physical assaults.
Only “fraction of a fraction” of drivers have engaged in behavior that falls into those categories, according to West. He also explained how a company with access to the clearinghouse of information could decide whether to allow a driver on its service after its own investigation.
It is hoped that this new measure will help appease lawmakers, who as previously mentioned, have criticized and fined Uber and Lyft in the past for inadequate safety protections for their riders. According to Brandenburger, Lyft is waiting for Uber to resolve a privacy dispute with California regulators before delivering on its promise to release a report about past problems on its service.
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