Didi Chuxing, China's largest online car-hailing platform, launched an in-car audio recording function on its app on Saturday as part of improved safety measures in the wake of the murders of two female passengers by drivers since May.
Passengers receive a message asking if they agree to the activation of in-car audio recording for safety reasons, and will only be allowed to continue to order a car if they click the agree button. If they fail to agree, the order will be canceled.
The message says the recording will be running on the driver's device during each trip and used as evidence in dealing with complaints and bad reviews. The recordings will be encrypted to protect the privacy of drivers and passengers, and will be automatically deleted after seven days if no disputes arise during that time.
Zhu Wei, an associate professor of law at the China University of Political Science and Law, said the new function will help upgrade Didi's entire safety system and solve many disputes about service.
"When the safety system is complete, it won't just help solve murder cases but also arguments or conflicts, such as if the driver made a detour, had bad attitude, or if the driver made inappropriate comments or engaged in other forms of harassment. The recording will play a crucial role," Zhu said.
However, the new function has received mixed reviews online. Some netizens believe it will prevent drivers from using vulgar words to passengers－which would be effective when dealing with harassment, but would be unable to prevent a murder. Others express concerns about the invasion of personal privacy.
"Even though voice recording cannot guarantee zero harm or danger, it can act as a deterrent to crime because it is linked directly to the police," Zhu said.
He added that the protection of privacy won't be a problem because the recording will be deleted after a short time, and it will be of no use other than as evidence in service disputes. However, he suggested that passengers and drivers should be given the option to turn it off if they choose.
The new function comes with six other safety measures, according to a statement issued by Didi on Thursday, including an upgraded emergency one-click call to the police, the additions of emergency contacts to a passenger's customer record, improving drivers' safety education and testing their skills.
Didi has also suspended its late night (11 pm to 5 am) services from Saturday until Sept 15, and will improve its customer service system by increasing numbers on its customer service team to 8,000, it said.
Since Wednesday, Didi has also been undergoing a comprehensive inspection by an inspection team from the Ministry of Transport and the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, which will determine whether it has addressed its safety problems and whether it is ready to provide data as required.
Didi began making changes after a 20-year-old woman was murdered by her driver on Aug 24 after hailing a car in Yueqing, Zhejiang province. It was the second such case since May, when a driver raped and murdered a 21-year-old flight attendant in Zhengzhou, Henan province.