New Frontiers in Online Safety

Technology is powerful.

Long gone are the days of sprinting to Blockbuster to get a newly released Lindsay Lohan movie; now with a few clicks I have the Parent Trap and more from the comfort of my sofa. I never need an IOU, because of Venmo. No need to map my long runs: there’s an app for that. We’re the app-for-that generation and I love it. It’s convenience, it’s fun, and it’s my life today.

I’m city-born and suburban-raised, car-pool and bus stops were the norm. After high school, I chose city life and haven’t turned back. I’ve never owned or rented a car. I walk, I take the bus, I bike (sometimes), but let’s be honest, I mostly use ridesharing apps.

I consider myself a ridesharing app “power user”.

On November 4, I requested a ride and hopped in. As soon as I sat down, something didn’t feel right. Perhaps it was the smell of cigarettes. Or was it intuition? I knew I was less than 10 minutes from my destination, so I was hopeful. When we turned right on the main street, it began. Minute by minute, he started asking me questions, first basic, then progressed, asking me where I lived, what I was doing in San Francisco, and before I knew it, I was being propositioned. I did not know what to do. Do I videotape this? Do I record? What if he doesn’t take me home? The questions became unfathomable. At one point, I asked him to stop the vehicle and I left. He told me not to leave, but I opened the door and proceeded to leave.

I didn’t want him to know where I was going, so I walked to a neighboring building, hoping he would leave. I waited a few minutes and then heard the engine of the car stop. At that point, I turned my back and saw him open his car door and proceed to walk towards me. I immediately ran to a busy street and entered the nearest bar where I spent the next several minutes writing down on my phone what just happened.

I was shaking. I felt silenced. I felt powerless.

Pause

Thoughts and triggers bubbled up. I couldn’t go to work the next day. I sat on my couch, I cried, and tried to type this essay, but the words couldn’t come out. How in 250 words or less can you explain what it’s like to be belittled to a point of feeling like no one could see your humanity? That’s how I felt. The fact that I was once in TIME Magazine as a leader, of the next generation or one of the first young African-American women elected leaders in Maryland meant nothing. To that driver, I was a piece of meat. And, I can’t let that happen. Nope, it’s 2016. He can take several seats.

I will not shake, I will not be powerless or silenced anymore. I’m sharing this story, because I need — and we all need — a solution. Ridesharing isn’t going anywhere. It’s still part of my life. As I said, technology is powerful; now let’s improve it and make it better.

Unfortunately, I know I’m not the only one. I don’t want anyone else to experience what I did, or worse, and I don’t want to have to wonder if this is going to happen again to me, to my friends, to my family, to my co-workers.

Here’s what I propose…

What companies can do…

1.Be transparent. Publish aggregate data of assault-related reports on a quarterly basis to your consumers to encourage accountability and decrease complacency.

2.Product development. Invest in product build ins that enable consumers to report seamlessly

  • Emergency Hotline Number should be in the application
  • Feedback relating to sensitive conduct should be denoted and have a separate priority window and not shared with the driver. Currently, feedback is shared with the drivers.

3. Conversation. Communicate with user base continuously to iterate on feedback to inform product development.

Have ideas to add? Let’s change this together. List your ideas below. On March 16th, I will print out all of the comments below in addition to the ideas listed above and share them with ridesharing companies based in San Francisco.

Onwards!