Uber is no stranger to media attention for the behavior of its contracted drivers. But over the weekend, Buzzfeed published a story raising new questions about the frequency of rape and sexual assault associated with Uber rides.
Uber disputes the claims, providing a host of explanations -- including typos.
Internal data obtained by Buzzfeed reporters indicates thousands of customer support tickets contain the phrases "sexual assault," "rape" or variations on those terms. The data pertains to the time period between December 2012 and August 2015 and comes from screenshots of Uber's Zendesk database provided to Buzzfeed by a former customer service representative for the ridesharing platform.
"In one screenshot, a search query for 'sexual assault' returns 6,160 Uber customer support tickets. A search for 'rape' returns 5,827 individual tickets. Other variations of the terms yield similarly high returns: A search for 'assaulted' shows 3,524 tickets, while 'sexually assaulted' returns 382 results," report Charlie Warzal and Johana Bhuiyan.
Uber claims the numbers are inflated. The company says it has received five claims of rape and fewer than 170 of sexual assault in the time frame for which the search pertains.
These are the company's explanations for the high numbers in the Buzzfeed story:
- Riders misspelled a word. "Riders routinely misspell 'rate' (as in the fare) as 'rape', or use the word 'rape' in another context. For example, 'you raped my wallet,' " Uber told Buzzfeed in a statement.
- Some drivers are named "Rape." "Any email address or rider/driver last name that contains the letters R, A, P, E consecutively (for example, Don Draper) are included. After analyzing the data, we found more than 11,000 rider names and 17,500 rider emails with the letters 'rape,' " read the Uber statement. Update: Uber has revised this section of its statement to say, "Any email address or rider/driver name (first or last) that starts with an R and has the letters A, P, E consecutively afterwards, such as Susan Raper or Rachel Rapelli."
- Riders weren't necessarily talking about Uber. "The results also showed tickets from passengers who got into cars not on the Uber platform, or who were discussing unsubstantiated media reports of sexual assaults," Uber said.
Twitter users responded to Uber's response with skepticism. One tech journalist called the name explanation "the worst excuse I've ever heard."
I'm loathe to argue with Uber but I have to say, "some of our drivers are called Rape" is the worst excuse I've ever heard-- Holly Brockwell (@holly) March 7, 2016
buzzfeed: there are a lot of support tickets with the word rape in them?-- matthew braga (@mattbraga) March 7, 2016
uber: it's probably just riders/drivers with rape in their name
so ppl also say Uber "sexually assaulted" my wallet? because it wasn't just "rape" that showed up thousands of times https://t.co/2Z9JqFCzLd-- Sarah Lacy (@sarahcuda) March 7, 2016
Jezebel reported Monday morning that past stories in the media reveal more than five claims of rape associated with Uber. Additionally, sexual assault of riders isn't the only issue--the problem cuts both ways. A female Uber driver wrote last month on Bustle that an passenger had sexually assaulted her.
Inc. has reached out to Uber for further comment and will update if the company responds.