/ 13 September 2022

Uber introduces audio-recording safety feature

Uber
Uber is piloting an audio-recording security feature in Johannesburg and Pretoria. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Uber is piloting an audio-recording security feature in Johannesburg and Pretoria after successful launches in Latin American and the US in 2019.

Chinese company Didi was the first in South Africa to offer in-app audio recordings on its ride-hailing service but it exited the market after just a year in April 2022. It introduced the feature in China in 2018.

Uber Sub-Saharan Africa general manager Kagiso Khaole told the Mail & Guardian the company had wanted to make sure the audio-recording feature adhered to the law. 

“When you build it with privacy in mind, there’s a lot of consideration that needs to be put in place.

“We wanted to not only meet the legal requirements, but needed to meet Uber’s standards, and this is why it has taken us this long to bring this feature to South Africa,” said Khaole.

The additional security feature is opt-in, enabling either the rider or driver to record audio at the beginning of the trip, or at any point in its duration, by pressing the shield icon on the app and selecting “record audio”.

Both parties can see the availability of the feature but neither know when it is being used. The audio clips are saved in one-minute increments that are time-stamped, in case a phone loses power. It will stay on a user’s device for 15 days, after which it will be automatically deleted.

Importantly, you’re not able to access it, said Khaole. It’s encrypted so neither the rider, the driver nor Uber is able to listen to it. 

“It’s only once you file a safety incident, that’s when we will be able to unencrypt it. There’s a safety support team that has the credentials to be able to unencrypt the file once it is shared.”

The audio recording feature went live in Johannesburg and Pretoria on Thursday, 8 September, and will be rolled out to the rest of South Africa within a few weeks. The company is investigating how to launch it in the other sub-Saharan markets in which it operates. 

Khaole said it would give peace of mind to users of the platform and it couldn’t be done without adhering to privacy principles.

The audio-recording pilot in South Africa is an addition to the other safety features available in the sub-Saharan region, including RideCheck, trusted contacts and PIN verification.

The future of UberEats

At the media event in Johannesburg, head of new verticals at Uber Eats for sub-Saharan Africa Cikida Gcali-Mabusela also touched on the company’s plan to become a “virtual mall of the future”.

“We’ve got the restaurants and now we’re coming for everything else,” said Gcali-Mabusela. Other categories Uber has ventured into include

convenience stores, pharmacy outlets, alcohol sales and retail, “which shows us that the possibilities are endless”. 

The company has added grocery chains, fuel companies and textbook delivery services in the region. In South Africa, it has partnered with Exclusive Books and Game. Customers also have the option to buy anything from perfume to traditional herbs from Uber Eats.

Gcali-Mabusela said they were working on a product-replacement feature, for when items were out of stock, to give the customer the option to either get a refund or to choose a “best match” from other products. The feature is expected to roll out at the end of the year.

Another shopping feature to look out for is scheduling. 

“It will come in the hour that you want and you can track it. With other e-commerce experiences, you’re never really sure when it’s coming,” said Gcali-Mabusela. 

All liquor purchases on the UberEats app will have an identity-verification feature that scans the barcode of a South African ID before completing the purchase.

The company said the future of logistics and technology in emerging markets looked promising.