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Members of Uber’s Special Investigations Unit are ‘there to protect the company before passengers’

A ‘Special Investigation Unit’ at Uber charged with following up customer reports of problems with drivers, including sexual misconduct, are coached to first act in the company’s best interests, said a former agent in the group.

Some 80 agents working for Uber with no more than a phone and GPS ride data are trained when making an initial determination on a customer complaint to make suggestions and take actions that favor the company, said the agent, Lillie Flores, who also was a trainer with the Phoenix, Arizona,-based unit.

‘Investigators are there first to protect Uber, and then next to protect the customer,’ Flores tells the Washington Post, which published a report on the unit Wednesday.

A ‘Special Investigation Unit’ at Uber charged with following up customer reports of problems with drivers, including sexual misconduct, are coached to first act in the company’s best interests, said a former agent in the group. An Uber contracted car is pictured above

Even when Uber moves to 'deactivate' a driver - a term used for shutting out a driver from using the mobile-based app used by the firm - information regarding alleged misconduct or possible illegal activity, is not relayed to police, investigators said

Even when Uber moves to ‘deactivate’ a driver – a term used for shutting out a driver from using the mobile-based app used by the firm – information regarding alleged misconduct or possible illegal activity, is not relayed to police, investigators said

‘Our job is to keep the tone of our conversations with customers and drivers so that Uber is not held liable.’ 

Even when Uber moves to ‘deactivate’ a driver – a term used for shutting out a driver from using the mobile-based app used by the firm – information regarding alleged misconduct or possible illegal activity, is not relayed to police, other ride-share companies or background check firms,  investigators said. 

The revelations detail the flaws in Uber’s investigations of customer complaints, according to people who worked at the startup who spoke with the Post. 

It doesn’t help the investigative unit’s efforts either that Uber insists its drivers are contractors, and that it is shielded from the liabilities of their actions because the mobile app-based startup is a technology platform, not an employer.

A company spokeswoman, when reached by DailyMail.com, disputed the allegations made about the unit. 

‘Characterizing this team as anything but providing support to people after a difficult experience is just wrong,’ said Jodi Page in a written email statement.

Page offered that the unit, founded in 2017, was set up to ‘provide specialized customer support to riders and drivers dealing with very serious real-life situations.’

‘Employees on this team receive more targeted training based on years of guidance from experts in the field, and we believe provide a better experience to customers in their time of need.’

The spokeswoman added that Uber has ‘continued to enhance the team by actively hiring experienced specialists from diverse backgrounds.

The backgrounds, she said, included social services, crisis management and law enforcement, ‘who can manage reports of more serious safety incidents and have gone through training on how to deal with difficult issues.’  

Uber drivers are given ‘three-strikes,’ by agents investigating reports made by customers, more than 20 current and former investigators told the Post. 

However, exceptions have been made by executives that have kept drivers on the road, the agents said. 

In one example, an unnamed executive overruled an agent investigating a New York Uber driver accused three times of making sexual advances to customers. The driver, after he was allowed to continue driving, was implicated in a fourth incident that accused him of rape.

There have been multiple reports of alleged sexual misconduct made against Uber and its competitor, Lyft, that have emerged in lawsuits and sometimes in reports of criminal charges made against drivers.

A New York Uber driver last month was arraigned for picking up a 15-year-old girl at a Sweet 16 party and allegedly attempting to kidnap and sexually assault her, instead of dropping her off at her home.

Sean Williams, 32, of Brooklyn, (pictured above) last month was arraigned for picking up a 15-year-old girl at a Sweet 16 party and allegedly attempting to kidnap and sexually assault her, instead of dropping her off at her home. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges

Sean Williams, 32, of Brooklyn, (pictured above) last month was arraigned for picking up a 15-year-old girl at a Sweet 16 party and allegedly attempting to kidnap and sexually assault her, instead of dropping her off at her home. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges

Sean Williams, 32, of Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty to charges of felony kidnapping and misdemeanor child endangerment and unlawful imprisonment during his arraignment in New York’s Nassau County Court on August 20, Newsday reported.  

The case remains pending.

Uber’s current and former agents said the firm’s process for investigations leaves bad drivers behind the wheel, and gave examples.

One agent recalled a San Francisco driver, who was reported to have made his way into the back seat and put his hand up a passenger’s blouse before she struggled free. Another agent responded to riders who said a driver threatened them with a hammer he kept under his seat. 

Both were allowed to stay on the road. 

Flores added that during her time with Uber, one-third of cases handled by investigators dealt with sexual misconduct, including rape or unwanted flirtation or advances, reports the Post.

Victims are often left in the dark after complaining about a driver to the company, not knowing if there was any follow up. 

Sara Alfageeh, 23, of Boston, (above) complained that a driver who wouldn't stop chatting stretched a 15-minute trip from an amusement park across the South Carolina border into North Carolina into 45 minutes, without her permission

Sara Alfageeh, 23, of Boston, (above) complained that a driver who wouldn’t stop chatting stretched a 15-minute trip from an amusement park across the South Carolina border into North Carolina into 45 minutes, without her permission

Sara Alfageeh, 23, of Boston, complained that a driver who wouldn’t stop chatting stretched a 15-minute trip from an amusement park across the South Carolina border into North Carolina into 45 minutes, without her permission.

Alfageeh was in town for a comic book convention, HeroesCon, in June when she and a friend decided to visit Carowinds near the South Carolina line, reports the Charlotte Observer. 

She said the ride back to Charlotte later that evening with the driver, who was a ‘very enthusiastic conversationalist’ was peppered her with questions about her career as an illustrator and that he asked if she could help him professionally.

The driver even asked for her email address, reports the Observer.

Alfageeh responded with information about local sources, she said, but that his tone changed when he announced, ‘Let me take this exit, don’t worry about the extra cost.’

After she reported the nerve-wracking ride to an Uber investigator, she said her fare was and she was promised she wouldn’t be picked up by the same driver again.

At the end of the day, we're not the judge and jury to determine whether a crime has occurred,' Tracey Breeden, said Uber's global head of women's safety (pictured above)

At the end of the day, we’re not the judge and jury to determine whether a crime has occurred,’ Tracey Breeden, said Uber’s global head of women’s safety (pictured above)

‘There’s no way of knowing if he’s doing this with other riders,’ Alfageeh told the Post. 

Uber confirmed her conversation with the investigator and that her money was returned.

‘At the end of the day, we’re not the judge and jury to determine whether a crime has occurred,’ Tracey Breeden, Uber’s global head of women’s safety told the Post.

‘We’re here to gather information, make a business decision. We’re not law enforcement.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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