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Uber Apologizes For “Imperfect (And Fictitious)” Rebuttal Of A BuzzFeed News Claim

On Monday, Uber walked back a core explanation for the thousands of tickets in its customer support ticket system with the subject “rape.” This change in position comes less than a day after a BuzzFeed News published screenshots from Uber’s Zendesk-based customer support system showing thousands of tickets containing the word “rape.” Our report led to Uber’s revelation that the company received five claims of rape and 170 claims of sexual assault directly related to an Uber ride as inbound tickets to its customer service database between December 2012 and August 2015.

Uber responded with a letter signed by three key executives. It directly referenced the Zendesk screenshots and claimed these were “highly misleading” and contained false matches. It offered three explanations for the prevalence of the word “rape” in its system. The second of these stated: “Any email address or rider/driver last name that contains the letters R, A, P, E consecutively (for example, Don Draper) are included.”

However, that turned out not to be right. Today, at approximately 1:10 p.m. Pacific Time, Uber updated its letter with the following:

* An earlier version of this post stated that “ Any email address or rider/driver last name that contains the letters R, A, P, E consecutively (for example, Don Draper) are included. After analyzing the data, we found more than 11,000 rider names and 17,500 rider emails with the letters ‘rape’”.

Zendesk, one of our customer support platforms, contacted us to say that their search tool would not return a name such as “Don Draper” when searching for the word “rape.” However, such a search would (and did) return names that start with the letters R,A,P,E — even if the ticket itself had nothing to do with a claim of rape. We apologize to Zendesk for using an imperfect (and fictitious) example that doesn’t accurately represent their search functionality. This does not impact our analysis of the overall numbers, which was based on a manual review of these tickets rather than a simple keyword search.

The update came following an investigation by BuzzFeed News. Yesterday evening, BuzzFeed contacted Zendesk to specifically ask about its search query capabilities. After failing to get a response, BuzzFeed News called and stopped by the company’s headquarters. Following that visit, Zendesk notified Uber of the error.

Uber’s update notes, “We apologize to Zendesk for using an imperfect (and fictitious) example that doesn’t accurately represent their search functionality.”

Prior to the update from Uber, BuzzFeed News had already learned that the Zendesk system did not work in the way Uber claimed in its original statement, and had reached out to Zendesk for confirmation and comment. It is unclear at what point it contacted Uber.

Contact Charlie Warzel (charlie.warzel@buzzfeed.com) if you have additional information about this ongoing story.


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Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.

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