It took a tragic incident, but Uber is finally raising the intensity with which it checks the background of prospective drivers in India.
Four weeks after a female passenger was raped by a driver who had previously been convicted of sexual assault, the U.S. company announced it is working with screening specialist First Advantage after a pilot period and “extensive testing” of “multiple” alternatives.
“Our arrangement with First Advantage brings in additional layers of screening over and above the standard transport licensing process including: address verification, a local criminal court search, and a national criminal database search,” Uber said in a statement.
The company’s initial response to the rape pointed the finger at the current system in India. Its first statement — which included a promise to “work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs” – prompted plenty of outrage, despite the increased transparency that Uber and other taxi apps bring to the table.
There’s little doubt that a significant number of rapes go unreported and unsolved in India (and many other countries), so the fact that Uber’s data was able to lead police straight to the perpetrator is an important factor. However, that Uber is only now checking drivers with an increased level of scrutiny is of scant consequence to the victim, who has since filed a lawsuit in the U.S..
The new process reduces the possibility of another such incident taking place via Uber in India, but the overarching lesson for Uber (and other companies that scale quickly across the world) is to fix fundamental problems as a priority. No excuses, the customer must come first.
The Uber service resumed business in New Delhi last month, six weeks after it was banned following the rape. The company applied for a mandatory radio license and revealed that it has adopted a non-profit model until that is granted.
India has developed into a priority market for Uber over the past year or so. It’s one where the U.S. company is prepared to bleed serious amounts of cash in anticipation that the market will grow at a rapid rate, as we recently pointed out. SoftBank, the Japanese telecom giant, has emerged as its key rival in India and across Asia via a series of investments in taxi app companies.