While Uber is still reeling from the fatal crash involving one of its self-driving cars, the ride-sharing company’s Chinese rival is grappling with its own tragic death. Didi Chuxing announced today that it would be revamping its app after a passenger was raped and killed by her driver.
The passenger, 21-year-old flight attendant Li Mingzhu, was found dead on Saturday after hailing a car from Didi in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, according to state media. Police are still searching for the Didi driver, surnamed Liu, who abandoned his vehicle and jumped into a river after allegedly killing Li.
Didi has faced a growing outcry from passengers in recent days, especially from women who complain that the app allows drivers to leave comments on their profiles regarding their appearances. In China, Didi offers a number of services, including Didi Hitch, a car-pooling service, which Li was using at the time of her death. Passengers and drivers typically upload photos to their user profiles, and the app allows drivers to attach notes to a rider’s image. According to The New York Times, some passengers say they think the feature crossed a line.
Su Shiya, 21, a student in southern China, examined her Didi profile and found that drivers had tagged her as an “intellectual beauty” and a “sweetheart.”
“These comments are open to all the Didi drivers,” she said. “They all know what I look like.” She said she found the comments chilling, and has since replaced her image with that of an animated dog.
Didi said it suspended its carpooling service on May 12th as it enacts several new safety features. The company says it removed “all personalized tags and ratings features” that were part of the Hitch service as well as user photos. “Personal information and profile pictures of passengers and car-owners will be visible only to the individual himself or herself,” the company says. “All publicly-displayed profile pictures will be replaced with a system-generated default image.”
Didi is making facial recognition “compulsory” for drivers on Hitch to “minimize the risk of unapproved account use.” A “zero tolerance policy” will be introduced for Didi’s other ride-hailing services to ensure driver fidelity. China is notorious for its drivers faking accounts and rides. Sometimes, multiple drivers share an account or unregistered drivers borrow their friends’ phones and split earnings.
After it resumes, Hitch will also be suspended every night between 10PM and 6AM as Didi evaluates the effectiveness of its safety upgrades. An emergency help button will also be more prominently displayed on the app’s home screen.
“We are committed to fully taking our due legal responsibilities related to traffic accident, public security, criminal cases, and disputes on our platform,” the company says.
Li’s death came at a particularly sensitive moment for Didi, which is the largest ride-hailing service in the world with over 450 million users. The company just launched in Mexico, its first foray into a North American market. There, it will resume its rivalry with Uber for the first time since acquiring Uber’s Chinese business in 2016.
Didi also recently received a license to test self-driving cars in California. The move comes over a year after the company opened a Silicon Valley-based research lab to develop autonomous driving technology.