Category Archives: Technology

Do you Uber?

Since its inception Uber has rarely been out of the news, but not all the coverage it has been positive. The Silicone Valley rideshare service may have attracted investors in droves, expanded internationally in rapid time, and be worth a reported $41 billion, but — and pardon the pun — it’s been a bumpy ride

As you’d expect, much of the company’s trouble has come from taxi drivers who regard Uber as unfair competition, especially as the service is significantly cheaper than taxis in many parts of the world. Uber has been banned in Spain for this reason. After months of protests by taxi drivers, the Uber app was banned in Germany this September. Uber is challenging the ruling and is continuing operations in Germany. In a bid to win hearts and minds the company slashed fares on the budget UberPop service in October and asked the public for support.

More worrying are reports of sexual assaults on passengers and poor background checks on drivers. The most high profile of these happened in New Delhi after a woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver who was subsequently arrested. New Delhi banned the app within days. But that’s hardly the first case. Numerous passengers have reported being sexually assaulted or harassed by their drivers.

Earlier this year, a Chicago woman sued Uber after her driver allegedly sexually assaulted her. Hers was not the first complaint. There have been several reports of driver and passenger conflicts, and claims of sexual harassment and assault.

On top of the complaints, there is a seeming lack of response from the company. A London woman complained to Uber after her driver sexually harassed her. Her fare was refunded and the company gave her a £20 credit, but although Uber promised to investigate, they did not report back what action, if any, had been taken.

Here’s another one. A Los Angeles woman was taken on a 20 minute detour by her Uber driver, and driven to a deserted parking lot. The woman claims she repeatedly protested, but the driver ignored her. After screaming at the driver, he eventually turned the car around and drove her home. She regarded this as an attempted kidnapping and complained. Uber regarded it as merely an inefficient route. The company has also added a $1 extra charge for the UberX “safe rides” feature — meaning that there is effectively a tax on not getting assaulted by your driver.

Granted, these are just a handful of bad experiences, and Uber has plenty of dosh to fight the bad press —and is apparently not beyond digging up dirt on critical journalists.

Getting into a car with a stranger can be dangerous, and I have had a couple of unpleasant experiences with taxi drivers (you can read about it here) so I find Uber worrying — or at least, I wouldn’t use the service if I was alone.

I am curious about your experiences? Have you ever used Uber, in any country? Does the bad press worry you? Or is Uber merely having teething problems?

Consent? There’s an app for that…

I am a big fan of sex, and a big fan of technology, but there are times when the two don’t mix. A case in point is Good2Go, an app designed with the idea of curbing sexual assaults on American college campuses. Lee Ann Allman, who created the app, was apparently inspired by a discussion with her college-aged children.

You may be aware that California recently introduced a “Yes Means Yes” consent law on college campuses. This is partly in response to a number of high profile reports on the extent of sexual assault at American universities. College authorities have been ignoring the problem for years. It seems an institution’s “brand” is more important than their students. While any measure to reduce sexual assaults is a good thing, I am at a loss as to how Good2Go could help. If anything, it puts users in a more precarious position than before.

First off, consent can be withdrawn at any time – even if you are naked and in bed, you are allowed to change your mind and your partner has got to respect that decision. If he or she doesn’t, it is sexual assault. If you’ve answered Yes with Good2Go there is a greater chance you may feel pressured into continuing; or your partner may think he or she will be able to force you without any consequences since they have a record of your initial consent. This means that victims would be less likely to speak up for fear that they would not be believed.

Secondly, who the hell would this appeal to, other than rapists? I can see the point in the Good2Go app if sexual assault is your thing. You could steal a victim’s phone before the assault and answer Yes; or you could force them to download the app and “consent” at knifepoint. Good2Go might not be legally binding, but the courts will take any evidence of consent into considerations, and this may be enough to convince a jury that a rapist is innocent.

The only people this app could reasonably protect is students afraid of being falsely accused of rape. While there is a lot of discussion about this online, the chances of actually being falsely accused are slim. Various studies suggest 1 or 2 percent of all reported rapes are false, but these very, very unlikely to make it to court due to lack of evidence and the accuser recanting.

As far as I can see, the only people who need be worried about a “false” rape accusation are rapists – not jump-out-at-you-with-a-knife rapists, but those who target victims who are too drunk to consent, or who pressure an unwilling partner into sex. These rapists may kid themselves that what they do is fine because they don’t use force, but it is sexual assault. Giving them any tool, such as an app where they can protect themselves is madness.

In the US, sexually assaults on campus are generally investigated by the university instead of the police. This is supposed to protect students because the university doesn’t have as high a bar for evidence as the courts, but even when a student is found guilty, the university generally won’t expel the rapist, withhold transcripts or enact any real punishment anyway. The sad fact is that in a closed community like a campus, a rape victim is more likely to become the target of malicious gossip than a rapist.

And finally, if you find discussing sexual consent so icky that you have to do it via an app, you are not Good2Go because you are in no way emotionally mature enough to have sex. End of.