Business Impact

Does Uber Have a Sexual Assault Problem?

Screenshots of customer complaint data may point to an issue at Uber, but the company says it’s overblown.

Screenshots appear to show that searches through Uber’s customer service tickets in a Zendesk database return 6,160 results for the term “sexual assault” and 5,827 for the term “rape” between December 2012 and this past August.

The screenshots were posted as part of a BuzzFeed story published Sunday; Uber responded by telling the news outlet that five rape claims and “fewer than” 170 sexual assault claims were reported to the company via its customer service system. 

Uber said that a search for, say, “rape” would include results for passenger or driver names that contain that string of letters (it later amended this to note that this would only apply to passenger or driver names starting with that string of letters). Yet BuzzFeed reports that it saw nine customer service tickets with the word plainly stated in the subject line.

The screenshots and subsequent response from Uber (which the company elaborated on in a letter posted on Medium titled “Safety at Uber”) came in response to a lengthy piece, also from BuzzFeed, about Uber’s issues with customer service as its ride service grows. That story notes, among other things, that some customer service representatives gave Buzzfeed “screenshots of Uber’s CSR ticket-management system showing hundreds of incidents flagged as ‘assaulted’ and thousands of others flagged as ‘rape.’”

Part of the issue, if there is one, seems to be with Uber’s fast-growing and ever-evolving customer service team, which is meant to respond to issues customers report. Like the people who drive for Uber, who are classified as independent contractors and thus not actual employees of the company, many of its customer service employees are also contractors, according to BuzzFeed’s reporting. Many of these people working in the U.S. have been let go, and the work is increasingly being handled outside the U.S., where communication issues may make it harder or more time-consuming to solve serious problems reported by customers.

(Read More: BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, Buzzfeed, Medium, “Uber and Lyft Are Still Trying to Avoid Acting like Regular Employers”)

This post was updated after Uber changed its Medium post to point out that Zendesk's search tool would only return names that start with "rape."