Following unverified reports of a potential kidnapping ring connected to ride-hailing services in Cambridge, MA, the Cambridge Emergency Communications department has worked with Uber to implement new safety features for Uber users in Cambridge. The integration of the new feature was announced by the Cambridge Emergency Communications department on Feb. 1 according to the City of Cambridge government website.
Cambridge is the second city in Massachusetts to implement this new safety feature. This feature is called “9-1-1 Assistance” and is accessible in-app through Uber’s Safety Toolkit.
“Every second counts in an emergency,” said Director of the Cambridge Emergency Communications Department Christina Giacobbe in the City of Cambridge press release, “And these new updates will help ensure those living, working and visiting Cambridge get help quickly with accurate information if faced with an emergency situation.”
Photo Credit: New York Post
All Uber passengers have been able to make in-app 9-1-1 calls since May 29, 2018. When the passenger taps and confirms the call 911 button the screen displays needed information like location, street addresses, and car information so the passenger can communicate that information to the dispatcher. The new version, which is only being tested in specific locations right now, was developed with RapidSOS, an emergency call startup and software provider, allowing Uber to work directly with dispatchers to provide automatic location sharing instead of sharing that information through the passenger.
Through this new feature, dispatchers in Cambridge will have access to: driver and vehicle information which includes license plate, make, model, and color of the car, location information, and personal information, including any information the passenger uploaded to Uber’s safety profile such as medical information and emergency contacts.
“These location updates will further improve responding officers’ situational awareness, help achieve a more accurate description alongside the existing location information and ultimately deliver a faster, more effective response,” said Branville Bard, Jr., the Cambridge Police Commissioner in the City of Cambridge press release.
These updates between the Cambridge Emergency Communications department and Uber follow the spread of misinformation on social media about a potential kidnapping ring that utilized ride-hailing services. According to a Facebook post from the Cambridge Police Department a screenshotted text message was shared on Wednesday, Jan. 23 across social media claiming to have heard info from a “top investigator” about a kidnapping ring in Cambridge. It claimed the ring involved 11 Uber drivers who would offer girls laced water or candy and then kidnap them.
After it had spread around Boston and neighboring cities, the Cambridge Police Department posted to Facebook on Thursday, Jan. 24 that “the Cambridge Police Department has no knowledge of any such information or investigation and the information does not appear to have any validity.”
The rideshare kidnapping rumor claimed to be related to the Olivia Ambrose investigation, the recently found 23-year-old woman who went missing for three days after being kidnapped exiting a bar near Faneuil Hall. However, the Ambrose investigation had no relation to ride-hailing services.
Despite the claim being unverified, Cambridge Police Department has taken steps towards increased rideshare safety by working with Uber to update the security features and posting tips on their Facebook page on how to be safe when using ride-hailing services.
The last tip Cambridge Police Department stressed in their Facebook post was to “trust your gut” if you feel unsafe and call 911.