Hackernoon logoUber’s voice recording feature creates more problems than it fixes by@Giorgi-M

Uber’s voice recording feature creates more problems than it fixes

Giorgi Mikhelidze Hacker Noon profile picture

@Giorgi-MGiorgi Mikhelidze

I'm a beginner Software developer from Georgia with a big love for all things blockchain!

For those who don’t know, Uber has come out with a new initiative to install a voice recording feature on their application. This feature will allow both the driver and the passenger to agree on Uber’s app to gain access to each of their microphones and record the whole ride until it’s over.

Once the ride is over, both the passenger and the driver will be asked if everything went well. If either of them has any issues with the order they can say that they were not satisfied or there was some kind of misconduct.

The recording is then sent directly to the Uber support team where it will be checked, analyzed and solved. What solving means is that should there have been misconduct, either the driver will be banned from the app or receive a fine, or the passenger themselves will be restricted from using the app again.

One of the main reasons why Uber decided to implement this safety precaution is due to the increasing sexual assault cases against Uber drivers. In fact, in the US alone, there have been around 113 lawsuits filed, 31 of which ended with the conviction of the drivers.

Uber hopes that through recording the ride, they can either prevent the crime from happening or provide additional evidence during court hearings. But here’s the hurdle. Neither of the parties involved during an order could be notified about their conversation being recorded.

What this means is that if a driver starts recording the ride, they have the option not to let their passenger know about it and vice versa. This is pretty much crossing the privacy infringement levels, no matter how much Uber may claim that the voice recordings will be encrypted.

Voice recordings were never a good idea

Some pretty big companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon have all come under fire for violating their customers’ privacy by listening to their conversations unannounced. Some devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant were all collecting audio data from their users and using it for commercial purposes.

All three of these companies have promised to be more upfront about their future use of data, but only one of them, Apple have made the voice recordings optional for Siri.

It is extremely likely that Uber will go down the same path and use voice recordings as a means to either sell data or introduce new features to its business model. All without letting the customers know that they are being “monitored”.

Voice recordings can’t stop violations

Although the initiative from Uber is understandable and it’s pretty much all they can do at this point, I need to point out that these voice recordings are not going to do pretty much anything in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of verbal violation of drivers’ conduct, the passenger always had the opportunity to record their rides with their own smartphones, so the feature is pretty mediocre. And when it comes to preventing sexual or physical assaults, there’s not much the voice recording can do. At that point, either the passenger or the driver will have to use the App’s immediate 911 dialing feature.

But hope is not yet lost. Uber still has the opportunity to perfect this feature and potentially make it much more attractive by integrating AI.

How AI can make this feature 10 times better

First things first, is to receive consent from both the driver and the passenger on having the order recorded. Once this is agreed upon, the AI software will integrate itself with the recording and try to determine the tone of voice of each participant of the ride.

If you think that this is not yet possible with AI technology, you can always take a look at Australia’s effort to keep the young off of undesirable websites. Things like adult content or games of chance will start being heavily monitored through identification and etc. Most of it will happen through face recognition and analysis, but some of it will apply to voice recording breakdowns as well. Several websites like Gunsbet bitcoin casino in Australia have mentioned that preventing underage customers was impossible, but filtering them after the fact was a bit more tangible.

With the new AI, the websites would be able to scan the features of the user’s face and determine if it was a picture or not, and the voice recordings would analyze the sound waves and try to determine the age of the individual. They would naturally tell the difference between a voice recording and a natural voice as well.

The proposition is for Uber to use similar AI software in its voice recording feature. For example, once the consent is given by the parties, the AI is immediately activated. It will determine the number of people in the car first, and then identify the driver and the passenger. This would mostly happen through personal information given by both parties in their Uber accounts.

Should any kind of aggression or signs of it occur during the ride, the AI can either warn both parties that they are being recorded, or if it’s getting out of hand (like full-on fistfight or assault) it could immediately call the police, share the car’s location, it’s information and the trajectory it is heading.

Considering that it will be an urban area, the police can arrive within minutes, thus preventing any serious offense and raking the number of assaults in Uber rides considerably.

This would be a more comprehensive initiative to prevent misconduct from both drivers and passengers. Immediate action is much better than a delayed one after the fact.

Do you think this is possible? I definitely think it is. I’m pretty sure that most people, especially women, would be more than okay with sacrificing just a little bit of privacy during their Uber ride if that helps them remain secure and safe.

Giorgi Mikhelidze Hacker Noon profile picture
by Giorgi Mikhelidze @Giorgi-M. I'm a beginner Software developer from Georgia with a big love for all things blockchain!Read my stories


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