Uber has rejected claims that it has received thousands of customer complaints about rapes and sexual assaults taking place during trips over a 33 month period. In an investigation by BuzzFeed News that was posted recently, the site published screenshots taken from the ride-hailing company’s Zendesk customer service platform that showed a query for ‘rape’ returning 5827 individual tickets, with ‘sexual assault’ returning 6160.
Uber has responded by saying that the figures are not an accurate representation of the true number of complaints recorded in its customer-service database. It claims that, from the leaked batch, it has five tickets alleging that an actual rape occurred between December 2012 and August 2015, which represents 0.0000009 percent of rides. There were also “fewer than” 170 complaints of sexual assault over the same period, equal to 1 in every 3.3 million trips.
The data comes from complaints Uber has received directly and doesn’t appear to include those reports where the victims have gone straight to the authorities.
The company says that the reason BuzzFeed's figures are so “significantly overstated” is because the searches return many results that are not related to actual cases. For example, any names that feature certain letters in a sequence, such as 'Draper', will give a false positive. There are also many cases where complainants misspell “rate” as “rape,” or use sexual terms as a metaphor, such as “the Uber driver raped my wallet.”
Uber also said that because of those problems it does "manual audits of every ticket sent to Uber, not audits of keywords."
Buzzfeed points out, however, that the screenshots the site obtained show nine complaint tickets with the subject line of “rape” that do not appear to be the result of misspellings, driver or rider names with that letter sequence, or inappropriate metaphors.
For its part, Uber has improved some of its driver screening procedures recently and said that it is taking extra steps to both prevent and deal with these incidents.
But, as BuzzFeed notes, the problem facing Uber's customer service reps is that "the sheer quantity of these tickets makes it difficult to tell which ones are exaggerations or attempts at false escalations and which are legitimate and urgent requests."