Every trendy Malaysian has taken at least one ride with Uber, a private car-hiring service. If you’ve yet to try it out, though, here’s how Uber functions: when a user hires a driver, they are directly connected to each other via phone numbers, which means that drivers will have access to their customers’ number for the purpose of arranging pickup.
Uber was the answer to safer car rides, and is becoming more popular than taxis — until all it took was one individual to be the fire starter on Uber’s Safety Guarantee.
26-year-old actress, model, and radio announcer Daniella Sya booked a ride via Uber on 20 February 2015. Her ride began at Hartamas and was 40 minutes long, and everything seemed to be in order, with no funny business whatsoever. The driver assigned to her was Eiman, and he initially sent a single text message to ask where she preferred to be picked up.
Days later, however, was when this incident happened. On 3 March, Daniella was sent a text from Eiman, which read, “Hi dear, :)”. This was obviously an effort to initiate a private conversation with her — one that was clearly off the books. Daniella was in shock when she saw the message, seeing as she had not used the app that day to request any rides.
“I was puzzled. Then confusion, worry and frustration set in,” she said to says.com. She ignored the message and promptly blocked the number, as this was her 7th incident involving Uber drivers sending her similar messages to get to know her. She also said that, “It was incredibly silly and irresponsible of me not to report those previous incidents. Ignoring it further allowed these people with the wrong intentions to be braver in their actions.”
She then shared her plight on Facebook, and in response, several of her female friends voiced similar experiences involving Uber drivers sending them non-work related private text messages. A regular female Uber Black passenger (who wants to remain anonymous) also told SAYS that she was “creeped out” by her driver during her first time trying Uber X.
“When my Uber X driver sent me to Zouk Club KL, he mentioned that it might be hard to get an Uber to return home later at night. He added that he should “hang around” KLCC area for Uber requests. Around 2am, he texted me “Are you going home with your friends?” I thought he was being thoughtful and I thanked him accordingly, but then he kept texting me.
“”Are you going home alone?” “Should I take you home?” “Are you partying with friends or what?” He even mentioned that he would wait outside Zouk for me when I clearly did not ask him to do so. I ignored his messages until he stopped.”
Can we draw a clear line between concern and harassment?
First things first, everyone has different thresholds for what they consider to be harassment. And that is fine, and no one can judge you for it. In other words, regardless of whether you receive a text like “Hi dear, :)”, or a chain of messages asking about you, it is harassment as long as you are not comfortable with it.
Sure, we can come up with various ways to justify the driver’s text to Daniella — he might have meant to send it to someone else, or his buddies might have snatched his phone to send a prank text — but that is ultimately not the question at hand. Rather, it’s about whether the public and Uber would have taken such prompt action had the victim not been a celebrity.
Uber’s uber response
Upon hearing of Daniella’s incident, Uber had immediately taken action by suspending the driver. Following this, however, Daniella voiced concerns that their response felt insincere, since there were banner ads in the signature of Uber’s email which appeared to encourage readers to hire more drivers via the app. This was her reply:
“I appreciate them suspending the driver, but this man already has my phone number in his possession. I think I would appreciate a list of initiatives that the company is trying to implement in an effort to curb this issue, rather than having a company link below their reply listing their latest offers and promotions to hire more drivers.”
Daniella’s concern is an understandable one — after all, we wouldn’t want to have to read promotions by a company that we’d just voiced out against — but at the same time, it is a small issue compared to her initial complaint. Most companies would have a set of ads or pre-determined signatures that are tagged onto the end of their emails, and it’s up to readers to decide how they want to feel about it. That said, Uber could have been more tactful in their response to someone who had raised concerns over the quality of service they provided.
One concern that is brought to mind would be the potential difference in treatment that celebrities and non-celebrities receive. Both groups of people have the right to voice out concerns about their personal safety, and neither should be ignored, because as long as an individual feels threatened, then it is harassment — without question. What we should be asking is whether Uber would have responded with the same responsibility and seriousness had the complainant been an ordinary Uber passenger — and if not, why?
But we sure hope that it would be the same.