How Uber's internal safety team handles everything from car crashes to assaults

Uber driverREUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

  • Uber is quickly growing its safety and investigation team in Phoenix, the Financial Times reports.
  • Of the 600 employees, about 65 investigators handle everything from car crashes to assault - and are tasked with getting both sides of the story.
  • Drivers have previously told Business Insider the system is imperfect, and that often times a single customer complaint could see them suspended from the platform and therefore without a job, pending the investigation.

In the 16 months since Dara Khosrowshahi took over as Uber's chief executive, safety has been at the top of the company's laundry list of needed changes.

And as the app adds new features like direct-to-9-1-1 buttons, GPS crash monitoring, and other data-driven safety tools, a team of employees in Phoenix works behind the scenes to manage everything from physical assaults, car crashes, and even murder.

According to a new profile of the 600-person safety and customer service unit in Arizona published in the Financial Times on Friday, the office has grown quickly. When it launched in July 2017, there were only 23 employees.

Today, an algorithm monitors incoming tickets from the app, website, safety hotline and elsewhere for red-flags like "gun" or "touch," the paper reported. Then, a team of 65 investigators serve as the first line of contact for the complainant and accused. In urgent cases, the drivers account may be suspended pending a more thorough investigation by the company.

The company says most investigations into complaints are begun within an hour. Previously, it might have taken days for a representative to contact someone who filed a complaint.

Read more: 'Sometimes it takes a punch in the face': Uber's CEO admits he overlooked some important internal problems

Uber will contact local law enforcement in most situations, especially when there are "public safety issues" at play. However, the company says it has followed advice of advocates and survivors to not involve authorities in cases of sexual misconduct.

Drivers say the system still needs improvement

Still, there's work to be done. Engineering a perfect system for safety isn't easy, especially when Uber's workforce is a network composed of millions of independent contractors who may have little personal contact with the company during their tenure as a driver.

Many drivers have complained the system views them as "guilty until proven innocent," in the words of one driver in Boston, who spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity.

"When people complain, it hurts the driver, he said of the lost income due to being suspended. (He was briefly suspended after a rider said his car smelled like marijuana, which he claimed was because of a previous customer.)

Other drivers, online in forums like Reddit and UberPeople say they've also been de-activated or suspended because of a customer complaint.

One driver claimed in a statement online he was suspended without warning after a passenger complaint of "possible impaired driving," the driver said.

"I understand the need to look into the riders' complaints," said another driver, "but I also expect Uber, "my partner" to seek my side of the story before they punish me when took such a punitive and extreme measure!."

Uber seems to be attune to these problems, and is actively working to improve its systems.

"We haven't always got it right," Buddy Loomis, a former Arizona special agent, who now heads Uber's safety team in Phoenix, told the Financial Times. "Training was a challenge before the inception of understanding what the severity level of these incident types are."

Tony West, Uber's top lawyer, tweeted that "continuing to improve in this area is essential for Uber." He also touted a transparency report that the company is planning to release in 2019. That report will assumably come ahead of the company's much awaited public offering, which could value it as high as $120 billion.

Read the full Financial Times profile of Uber's serious incident team here.

Do you work for Uber? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via Signal or WhatsApp at +1 (646) 376-6102 using a non-work phone, email at grapier@businessinsider.com, or Twitter DM at @g_rapier.You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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