by Lillie Zhou
A 20-year-old female passenger in China’s southern Zhejiang province was raped and killed by her driver while using Hitch, DidiChuxing’s carpooling services, on August 25. This is the second time a female passenger has been murdered while using Didi’s services since May, and this incident has triggered severe criticism of Didi on Chinese social media. Three days later, Didi published an open letter, cosigned by founders Cheng Wei and Jean Liu, that apologized for the death of the victim and announced the suspension of Hitch services from the end of August.
Didi launched its Hitch services in 2015 and tried to promote it by overemphasizing its social networking and dating functions. Huang Lijie, the former general manager of Didi Hitch, described the service as a sexy dating platform during an interview with NetEase in 2015. That same year, on Chinese Valentine’s Day, which falls on July 7 of the lunar calendar, Didi Hitch launched an advertising campaign that encouraged customers to use the carpooling services for blind dating. Through this strategy, Didi depicted Hitch as a platform through which users could find romance.
Didi even promoted an event where Huang attended the wedding of a Didi Hitch driver on March 15 this year. The driver married a woman who had been his Hitch passenger, and Huang and Didi advertised the wedding as a winning story for Hitch services. Following Didi’s public apologies, the company has sinceremoved Huang from her position.
Furious about the two tragic murders that occurred within three months, Chinese netizens criticized Didi’s business strategies that use ads with sexual messages. “Truly disgusting, despicable marketing for Didi Hitch that’s all sexual innuendo and all about ‘picking up’ girls… Didi are you running a service for sexual predators or a ride hailing app?!” Rui Ma, a well known VC, wrote on Twitter.
In addition, records from Didi driver’s QQ chat groups in major cities were posted on China’s Twitter-like social platform Weibo and aroused much indignation: over 400 Didi drivers in the chat groups were sharing pictures of their female passengers, talking about their looks in sexually explicit language, and discussing passenger rape fantasies. Weibo users strongly rejected the drivers’ conduct and expressed concerns that Didi does not properly safeguard the privacy of its users, allowing drivers access to pictures, phone numbers and addresses.
Backing up the netizens, Chinese celebrities even urged people to delete Didi’s app and boycott Didi’s services. On her Weibo account, film star Ziyi Zhang strongly challenged Didi’s lax passenger safety standards and questioned if Didi’s “Di” means drops of blood.
Until this week, some Didi drivers who insulted the recent victim in chat groups were detained by local police for questioning. Local authorities from over ten provinces and cities, including Zhejiang Province, have questioned Didi executives and ordered the company’s local branches to suspend Hitch services and make improvements on passengers safety while warning that the company’s local business licenses could be revoked. On Monday, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) also pledged to improve the overall governance of the transportation sector.