Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Uber Safety: It gets worse

This report, published by eNCA in May 2016, summarises one of the problems that drivers face in Joburg. But it contains a statement that completely outraged me: "Driver partners have access to an emergency line"
Either this is a blatant lie, or none only some of the drivers have heard of it. I have asked several of them, and only one has admitted he has it on his phone, but not memorised it. Just like none few of the drivers have been told to expect passengers to ask them to open the boot after the recent attacks where the attackers hid in the boot. They gave me and my wife a blank stare when we asked, each on different occasions.
But this statement also begs the question: why is there no emergency line for Uber passengers? Because Uber doesn't care, and they have only recently appointed someone to handle their security.
On Wednesday [Sept 21 2016], Uber also announced the appointment of a new head of security for Africa in the form of Deon Du Toit.
So their statement about ".. Our specially-trained incident response teams are available around the clock to handle any urgent concerns that arise ..." is also questionable. They've been in operation for 3 years but only appointed someone last week?
I also found this gem, hidden away in the "receipt" section of the app (i.e. after the emergency is over and you get the receipt for your rape ordeal). Even their reassurances about their "Rapid Response" team is filed in the "After the trip" section of their Safety page.
Update 30 September 2016: eNCA has posted a longer version of its interview with Alon Lits,
CEOGeneral Manager of Uber for South Africa.
In the interview he refers to the ride receipts Uber sent to the rape victims as "speculation", and claims that the arrested driver was not employed during attacks. This begs the question: which driver generated the ride receipt if not the driver arrested? Alternatively, if the driver was no longer employed, how was he able to access the Uber system and log in as a driver?
My personal experence of Uber is that their software is not particularly stable or well designed. This week they managed to send two vehicles simultanously, and charged me for both "trips". How is that even possible?
In the interview he mentions the "two factor authentication" they like to tout. This consists in sending a random code via SMS to the phone of the driver when "he" logs in on that phone. How does that verify anything other than the phone number being used to log in? It doesn't verify the driver at all! They know this too, but refuse to admit it.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what Alon said, but he implied that the ".. specially-trained incident response teams ... available around the clock ..." aren't actually based in Johannesburg at all, but operate from Uber offices in California. Seriously!?
Update Sat 1 October: The incident response team is based in the United Kingdom, not California. Like that makes a huge difference.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Uber Stonewalling: Earth calling Alon Lits

I recently learnt that Uber in India has been using a "SOS Button" in the Uber app since April 2015. I have been trying to "reach out" (i.e. contact) the CEO General Manager of Uber for Southern Africa, Alon Lits, but he's a difficult guy to get hold of. Tweets to @Litsvinnig on Twitter have been ignored. That's somewhat ironic, since "vinnig" is the Afrikaans word for "fast".

My messages to have been fruitless so far. I started by sending the following note as part of my trip feedback:
Please ask Alon Lits to email me since he is ignoring my Twitter messages (Sep 14, 09:53 PDT)
I got a reply 10 hours later at Sep 14, 19:22 PDT from "Olivia":
Hi Donn,
Thanks for reaching out!
Did you mean to contact Uber support? If so, would you mind providing more information on how we can help? We'll be happy to look into it and do what we can to help sort things out.
Please disregard this message if your feedback was only sent by accident. Best, Olivia
So then I replied via email:
Dear Olivia
Alon Lits is the CEO General Manager of Uber South Africa. I have been trying to contact him about some questions relating to the safety of passengers and drivers, and he stubbornly refuses to reply via Twitter, and there is no phone number I can call him on, and no email I can contact. I would be most grateful if you could supply me his contact details.
Best wishes, Donn
An hour later I got the following reply:
Hi Donn,
Thank you for reaching out. My name is Jemma and I am a Senior Support Specialist here at Uber. This issue has been escalated to my attention and I am keen to address your concerns here.
Unfortunately I cannot provide direct contact information for Alon. I'd be more than happy to address any query that you may have regarding rider or partner safety. If you'd like to forward me your questions, I'll get back to you as soon possible.
I'll keep a look out for your response.
Kind Regards, Jemma P
So on Saturday 17th September I wrote:
Dear Jemma
Please pass on the following link to Alon

If I don’t get feedback from him or someone official at Uber South Africa by the end of the month I am taking Uber to the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading and deceptive advertising.

Uber has had a “panic button” facility in India for 18 months, yet NOTHING has been done about it here. In the meantime, several drivers and passengers have been attacked by Meter Taxi drivers or their comrades, and there have been muggings and rapes of passengers. Do you honestly think that Uber customers should just passively sit back and wait another 18 months for Uber to decide what to do?

You may be content to sit around in the relative safety of California, but I can assure you that like in Africa is a little bit more dangerous. So kindly stop patronising me and pass this on to Alon Lits, the CEO General Manager of Uber SA. I suggest you read my blog article too. Maybe you will spot a few obvious problems with the Uber system. If they’re obvious to me they should be obvious to your development team too.
Thanks in advance, Donn
Since then: ** crickets ** (I write this on Wednesday 21 September)
In true "big corporate who doesn't give a **** and is happy to take my money if I don't complain" style, I haven't heard a word. But I know Alon reads his Twitter feed, because he retweeted an Uber South Africa birthday announcement.
So we get cupcakes on Friday, but we run the risk of being mugged and/or raped every time we use their service. Life in South Africa is truly weird.
Alon, when you eventually find this blog post, please give me a call or send me an email. My contact details are on this page.
Update 28 September: Alon, when you do a TV interview, it's a good idea not to stonewall and be evasive. Unless you know you're guilty and in big trouble, of course. And those Uber receipts aren't the kind of thing you can deny. Interview posted here.
Update 30 September: It pays to be persistent
and I also found this:

Friday, September 09, 2016

Why EIG is called Endurance International

I have been an Arvixe customer for several years. This time last year my web site(s) went down for several hours because their server was flaky. They moved my sites to a new server, but they have never been able to meet their Service Level Agreement of 99.99% uptime, so every month I have sent them a request for a refund.
Their billing support system is as bad as their servers. There is a note on their support portal dated 16 October 2015 asking for patience because they have a backlog of support tickets. Perhaps they are finally getting to the end of their backlog, I don't know. Today I received a note:
XXT-679-61954 - SLA Credit - December 2015 - $8.00
QYZ-625-38512 - SLA Credit - February 2016 - $8.00
BMK-986-67095 - SLA Credit - March 2016 - $8.00
BQA-176-25134 - SLA Credit - April 2016 - $8.00
KXY-538-81679 - SLA Credit - May 2016 - $8.00
YIK-233-47716 - SLA Credit - June 2016 - $8.00
IYH-117-84843 - SLA Credit - July 2016 - $8.00
CTE-487-27289 - SLA Credit - August 2016 - $8.00
The total credit added to your account today is $64.00 USD
Two years ago Arvixe was bought out by EIG, the Endurance International Group, a company whose business is to buy out web hosting businesses and run them into the ground. I don't know hoe they make any profit, other than relying on the technical ignorance of the customers they retain. My first encounter with them was when they took over WebHostForLife and totally screwed up my ASP.NET site so badly it displayed a blank page for two weeks. I moved to Arvixe and all was well until 6 months after EIG bought them out. Then the rot set in again, although not as badly this time round.
So now it's a war of attrition: my sites are hosted by EIG essentially for free, because they can only manage around 99% uptime per month. Sometimes it has been even lower. I'm having to put up with anything up to 30 minutes of downtime per month. So the "endurance" part is obvious: they want me to give up first. Sorry guys, I'm not going to give up without a fight. And right now that's costing you more money than it costs me.
These are the sites they host:
  • (Classic ASP which takes about 3 minutes to get started when you visit)
  • (standard HTML)
  • ASP.NET pages
One of these days I'll move them somewhere decent, but right now I'll put up with free hosting with no ads. Thanks to the monitoring service I can keep these sharks accountable.

Note: This post was originally posted on Steemit. Please leave comments there.