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Uber begins collecting data to analyze neighborhood safety in India

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A partnership aims to raise awareness for passengers — and governments

Uber's effort to improve passenger safety in India isn't stopping with a panic button. The company said today it is partnering with Safetipin, a smartphone app that attempts to gauge the relative safety of neighborhoods, to help gather data and distribute it to local governments. As part of the partnership, which begins Wednesday and runs for five months, Uber will let Safetipin's auditors ride along in New Delhi to collect data about neighborhoods. The company will mount smartphones on vehicle exteriors to capture images of road and city conditions, measuring each photo for criteria including lighting, visibility, and the gender diversity of the people in the picture.

Uber and Safetipin will then send the information to city governments and urban planners to suggest improvements, such as adding street lights, the companies said. Meanwhile, neighborhoods are given a score in the Safetipin app, which passengers can use to gauge the relative safety of areas they plan to travel through. While the partnership is launching in New Dehli, where an Uber driver is facing rape allegations, it's coming soon to Bogotá, Colombia and Nairobi, Kenya, as well.

Shifting the focus to governments — and away from itself

Apps like Safetipin have come under scrutiny before — crowdsourcing a neighborhood "safety" score can invite racist commentary (others have tried). And it's not clear how useful a numerical score is to a woman trying to decide whether to take a trip — or whether governments will actually implement any urban planning suggestions from a smartphone app. But if nothing else, the partnership will let Uber say that it's doing its part to fight crime. "By working together on this meaningful cross-border initiative we hope to provide local communities with the technologies to enable them to travel more safely around their cities, here in India and around the world," Uber's manager for New Delhi said in a blog post. From Uber's perspective, shifting the focus to governments — and away from itself — can only be beneficial.