DiDi has announced a range of measures to improve passenger safety, days after the ride hail platform suspended its intercity car-pooling service Hitch (顺风车) after the alleged murder of a passenger by her driver. As well as new features such as daily and per-trip facial recognition approval of drivers, Didi is consulting the public on the possibility of recording every single journey.

The company took the Hitch product down for a week of “rectification” on May 12 following the gruesome murder of a young female passenger in Zhengzhou on May 6, apparently by her Hitch driver. The suspected killer has reportedly since been found dead. China’s Ministry of Transport announced on May 11 plans to tighten regulation of the ride-hailing industry.

In a statement shared with TechNode, Didi has outlined several updates. The company said the changes will come into effect “in the coming days” and be implemented before Hitch resumes.

  • Hitch will continue to be suspended between 10 pm and 6 am as the company evaluates night-time safety guarantees. Passengers and drivers on trips starting before 10 pm and expected to end after the cut-off will receive extra safety tips.
  • Drivers will now have to photograph themselves before every Hitch trip for facial recognition approval.
  • The controversial public use of profile pictures of passengers and drivers will end and be replaced with default images. Chinese netizens, especially female ones, have complained of inappropriate comments from drivers after uploading their profile pictures.

In addition to the Hitch changes, Didi is planning new ways to improve all its services in addition to existing background checks of ID, driver’s license and vehicle registration.

Anecdotally, one of the most persistent problems when using Didi is that the car that turns up does not match the license plate provided in the app for that booking. This is confusing when trying to identify the car booked, but also shows the flaws in the system.

  • Drivers will now have to pass a facial recognition test every day as part of a Zero Tolerance approach to matching drivers and vehicles.
  • A reward program will be created for passengers reporting mismatched cars and drivers.
  • The emergency help button will be more prominent and will now offer the choice to dial the police, an ambulance of traffic emergency hotline as well as Didi’s emergency hotline. Pressing the button already starts a recording of what’s happening in the vehicle and prompts the Didi call centre to call the passenger and share an emergency contact.
  • Additional funding will be made available beyond legal requirements to help victims and families.

The company is now opening a public consultation on whether to audio record every single ride. Users would have to consent in the app before this happening and the recording would be encrypted and stored on Didi servers, not phones, then deleted after 72 hours.

Didi is also asking the public whether people with spent criminal convictions unrelated to personal safety or public security should be given the chance to become Didi drivers.

Update: Did suspended its Hitch service after midnight, meaning May 12, not May 11 as reported.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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