Didi drivebranded wristbandsr"s body recovered after flight attendant killed

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Police say man leaped from bridge in likely suicide; ride service under fire

Liu Zhenhua [File photo from web]

The body of a Didi Chuxing driver who was suspected of killing an airline flight attendant was recovered from a river in Zhengzhou, Henan province, on Saturday, as critics accused the ride-hailing app"s "social function" of putting female passengers at risk.

Police authorities in Zhengzhou said the suspected killer - identified only as Liu - is believed to have committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

Liu picked up a woman surnamed Li through Didi"s "hitch" service on May 5. The service, one of 13 offered through Didi"s mobile app, allows private drivers to pick up passengers going in the same direction. Drivers participating in other Didi services are subject to a more rigorous vetting process.

The 21-year-old flight attendant ordered the "hitch" service at 11:53 pm, aiming to travel from a hotel near Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport to the city"s train station. Liu instead took her to a deserted area about 15 kilometers from the airport where police say he killed her.

Li"s body was found on May 8, a day after her father reported her missing.

No details about how the victim died have been released. On Sunday, authorities said five people, including a police support officer, had been detained for sharing photos online of the victim"s body taken at the crime scene.

According to the police, 10 minutes after picking up the woman Liu deleted the account and drove immediately to the site where her body was found. He stayed there for 26 minutes and then headed south for about 10 km before stopping the car on a bridge.

Surveillance footage shows someone jumping into the water near the city"s West Third Ring Road. Police recovered a body from the water on Saturday and said DNA testing had confirmed it was Liu.

According to Didi, Liu was using his father"s account on the night of the killing. His father had passed the full verification process and criminal background check, the company said. Also, the father"s facial recognition information was on file, as required for all driver"s before their first pickup.

But some media reports quoted the father as saying he didn"t know he was registered as a driver.

Using another person"s account is a violation of its contract terms, the company said. However, it conceded that its "night safety system", which requires users to log in using facial recognition, was "defective".

Didi said it had received a complaint of verbal sexual harassment against the driver registered with the account before the killing, but its customer services department had been unable to reach him by phone after trying five times, so no action was taken. It did not say how Liu came to be using an account in his father"s name.

The killing sparked public outrage, prompting Didi to suspend its hitch service nationwide for a week on Friday to complete a background review of its drivers.

The platform"s social interaction function has been criticized as a safety hazard for passengers. The hitch service is designed for budget travelers and allows registered car owners to accept rides on routes they regularly travel.

The company has encouraged the social function. In earlier interviews, Didi President Liu Qing has said the idea came from her time studying in the United States, when she could thumb for a lift and talk to and laugh with strangers en route to a destination. That is not common in China, and the hitch service was aimed at making it happen, she said.

Before the service was suspended, drivers and passengers could post comments about each other, such as whether a driver or passenger was good. However, comments have often featured vulgar descriptions of females.

Drivers can see passengers" information before taking an order, and vice versa.

A registered hitch service driver in Beijing who declined to be named said on Sunday that he preferred to pick up "good-looking" women when he takes orders. He sometimes takes orders on his way to or from work.

"I don"t take orders for money, but just to have some company on the way," he said. "As a man, I find it pleasing to chat with pretty girls."

The social function of online businesses is a double-edged sword, according to Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communication Law Research Center at China University of Political Science and Law.

"The advantage is obvious, including attracting customers and providing customers with information about products," he said. "However, in this case, some inappropriate comments may induce people to commit crimes."

He suggested limiting the comment choices in some apps to a grade and details such as timeliness and cleanliness, but not a passenr"s gender.

Given the safety issues, the sacrifice of some information is worth it, he said.

Ma Si contributed to this story.

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(China Daily 05/14/2018 page4)