Here come new safety tools

Uber’s first ever Global Head of Safety hints at improvements

Uber riders received an email Wednesday from the company’s new “Head of Global Safety,” Philip Cardenas. Cardenas introduced himself as a new hire whose team is reviewing Uber’s safety practices around the world to implement new technology and better procedures.

The company confirmed to me that although Uber has always had safety teams, Cardenas is the first person in this executive-level role. The company brought him on in September, but this appears to be his debut to the public. I’ve reached out to Uber to verify that.

Uber hired Cardenas away from Airbnb, where he oversaw safety practices for three years. According to his LinkedIn, Cardenas also spent time in the U.S. military, as an intelligence officer in Baghdad for a year in 2009.

In the blog post, Cardenas also previewed a range of safety procedures that Uber is considering. He said the company started a global safety procedure review in November and will be developing new technology and tactics to vet drivers carefully. For an overview on what’s wrong with Uber’s background checks, see our primer.

“We have more work to do, and we will do it,” Cardenas says. “As we look to 2015, we will build new safety programs and intensify others.”

Among the product roadmap he mentioned are “biometric sensors,” “voice verification,” lie detection tests, and a type of panic button for riders. Some will apply to certain countries but not others. For example, a polygraph test would be useful in India, where documents can be forged, but isn’t necessary for the states.

Cardenas didn’t elaborate on what constitutes biometric sensors, although it could be some version of fingerprinting. He didn’t provide more information on voice verification either, but I could see it being used to ensure drivers don’t hand off their Uber phones (and therefore app identification) to other unvetted drivers.

Cardenas’ hire was followed by a few tumultuous weeks where Uber’s background check system came under fire. I’m sure Uber has been keeping him busy.

A woman was allegedly raped by a driver in New Delhi, one who was already out on bail for a rape charge. The incident led Uber to suspend its Delhi operations until it reviewed its driver vetting process. Then, the SF and LA District Attorneys sued Uber for misleading people about the strength of its background checks.

CEO Travis Kalanick recently spoke about the issue with a Wall Street Journal reporter. He admitted that the company could do more to bolster its attempts.

“We can always invest more in safety and make sure we’re bringing way more safety than taxis,” Kalanick told the Wall Street Journal. “I think we’re already there, and the question is how much further can we go?” Cardenas’ hire is an indication that the company is serious about answering that question.

This story was updated as it developed.