Uber rejects talk of 'thousands' of sexual assault reports

Reportedly, there were 'fewer than' 170 incidents.

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AP Photo/Saurabh Das
AP Photo/Saurabh Das

Uber isn't fond of allegations that it doesn't do enough to stop sexual assault during rides, and it's opening up some of its data to prevent its bruised reputation from getting worse. In response to BuzzFeed News obtaining leaked customer support data suggesting that there were thousands of complaints about sexual assault during trips, Uber has released official info that suggests the problem isn't as serious. Reportedly, there were "fewer than" 170 complaints of sexual assault between December 2012 and August 2015, and five of rape -- still horrific, but not as bad as implied. The search queries that BuzzFeed obtained supposedly include results that have no relation to actual cases, such as names (people named "Rapelli" would show up) or pricing gripes that involve a poor choice of words.

The company maintains that it's "deeply committed" to safe rides, and that its technology helps it protect people "before, during and after" their journeys. There's at least some truth to this. It has tightened some screening procedures, and has otherwise taken extra steps to both prevent incidents and deal with them when they show up.

The challenge is finding out whether or not the official figures tell the whole story. Uber isn't giving BuzzFeed a chance to look at the complaints themselves, for one thing. That's understandable given privacy concerns, but it makes it difficult to verify how many of the search queries are directly relevant. The screenshots alone show nine complaint subjects that are unambiguously about sexual assault -- it doesn't bode well if one leaker can quickly find 5 percent of incidents. This doesn't mean that Uber is hiding anything. However, it could make it tough for critics to accept the figures at face value.

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