Mistakes DidiChuxing made that may fuel crimes against women

A recent murder of a 21-year-old stewardess during a carpool leads the ride hailing giant Didi Chuxing to overhaul its services.

Since May 12, Didi temporarily suspended its carpool service, Didi Hitch, after a 21-year-old Li Mingzhu was murdered using the service and later found with more than 20 stab wounds in central Zhengzhou. Two days later, police found a body in a local river belonging to the driver suspected of killing the woman.

On May 16, Didi added safety measures for carpooling, limiting the services to only be available during the daytime. Hitch will also hide both the drivers’ and passengers’ personal data and profile pictures. In addition, not only will facial recognition be compulsory to verify the drivers’ identity, but also a potential video recording feature might be introduced.

Most importantly, personalized tags and ratings features will be axed. Previously, Hitch let drivers and passengers rate each others’ profile pictures and tag images with labels such as “beauties”, “college girl”, “not dressing much”, “low self-defense.” There have been repeated posts from female passengers, including minors, reporting harassment from drivers, to whom the passenger ratings are exclusively shared.

When Didi launched its carpool service for the first time in 2015,  there were reviews comparing Didi Hitch with China’s largest dating app Momo, musing that Didi’s consumption scenario combined with its social demand is the next trendy O2O business model.

For instance, on a past Chinese valentine’s day Qixi Festival, Didi published posters with slogans, saying “Let’s date: how carpool should be played”, “Be yours sooner or later”, etc. On all these posters, drivers were all portrayed as men, since this is the only way to encourage part-time drivers to accept hitch requests that are less rewarding money-wise.

In the above slogans Didi misplaced its position in the carpool service as a platform enabling drivers to interact with female passengers. Hence, what truly got Didi into trouble is that by including users in an enclosed consumption scenario, it acts like an accomplice to these crimes against female passengers.

On the other hand, there are also some controversial measures in this overhaul, specifically the non-optional recording is being deemed debatable.

According to Didi’s statement, not only will a video recording potentially be installed during rides but also these recordings could be in the pipeline too. Though the company insists the encrypted data will be stored only on its servers and will be deleted after 72 hours, this approach fuels a privacy concern, which is already being widely discussed given that both the state and enterprise are massively integrating big-data technology. Thus, is Didi violating privacy in order to protect privacy? By overly catering to consumers with flamboyant functions, does shared economy realize or substantially protect user interests?

After all, this case poses a real challenge for Didi, who has already been facing competition from Meituan Dianping, which recently entered the ride-sharing market and acquired bike-sharing startup Mobike in April. While being occupied with its ambitious overseas expansion, how could Didi maintain its trust with its already-existent 450 million users?

(Top photo from unsplash.com)

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