Uber cracks down on sexual harassment with a ban on flirting


Maybe you've found yourself in the midst of an Uber pool meet-cute before. Maybe you and your driver have even engaged in some cheeky conversation on your way to your destination. Or maybe your driver tried to get something going — and you just weren't having it. No more, says Uber.

On Thursday, the rideshare company rolled out new community guidelines for both drivers and riders, one of which stands out from the rest: No flirting. 

"Don't touch or flirt with other people in the car," reads the company's site. "As a reminder, Uber has a no sex rule. That's no sexual conduct between drivers and riders, no matter what."

An October study found that in addition to Uber drivers discriminating against riders based on their race — with drivers canceling rides for men with "black-sounding" names twice as often as other men, for example — they also discriminated based on gender. 

"Female riders reported 'chatty' drivers who drove extremely long routes, on some occasions, even driving through the same intersection multiple times," the study's researchers wrote in their report, according to Bloomberg News. "As a result, the additional travel that female riders are exposed to appears to be a combination of profiteering and flirting to a captive audience." 

Jeff Chiu/AP

In April, Boston.com reporter Allison Pohle shared her experience dealing with sexual harassment in an Uber that amounted to far worse than "profiteering." On the ride to her home in Cambridge, Mass., Pohle's Uber driver told her he was a "a very sexual person, and that he loved giving oral sex" after detailing his failed marriage. 

"I feel like I met you because something is supposed to happen, and it's a sign," the driver told Pohle. When they reached her destination, the Uber driver refused to unlock the doors and told her he wanted to kiss her. When she finally escaped, he asked her for her number, wanting to "stay in touch."

When she told Uber what had happened, the company refunded her ride and gave her a $30 voucher, assuring her they would try to prevent the incident from happening again. A company representative told her she would never again be matched with that rider, but when Pohle asked whether the driver would continue to pick up other riders, they said that information was confidential. 

Though data provided to BuzzFeed in March 2016 showed just five claims of rape and "fewer than" 170 instances of sexual assault, BuzzFeed's reporting suggested those numbers are likely much higher. After searching through customer complaints from 2012 to 2015, the website found 6,160 Uber customer support tickets for "sexual assault," 5,827 individual tickets for "rape" and thousands of additional tickets for variations on those terms. 

The company maintained they weren't representative of assault complaints levied against the platform. 

"No one seems to have a complete picture of the problem nationally," Pohle wrote in April. "A semblance of scale comes from searching 'creepy Uber driver' on Twitter, but that's unscientific for a variety of reasons."

It would seem then that "no flirting" mandate, or Uber's emphasis on the "Golden Rule," only begins to scratch the surface.