Uber faces more challenges over its face biometric driver ID system
The App Drivers and Courier Union (ADCU) and Worker Info Exchange (WIE) have called on Microsoft to suspend Uber’s use of its face biometrics in the UK as part of a driver verification system which is reported to have prompted license revocation by Transport for London (TfL) with false negative biometric matches of an unknown number of the company’s drivers with darker skin, reports TechCrunch.
Uber has come under constant pressure since the launch of its Real Time ID Check in the UK in 2020, as unions have picked holes in the system saying it has caused job losses to seven drivers, who at one point or another, had their faces misread by the Uber app’s biometric feature, putting their identity into question.
The face biometric capability is provided by its B2B Face API service. The company says it is committed to improving the API and its accuracy across demographic groups, and that it provides customers with detailed guidance and tools for assessing system fairness.
According to TechCrunch, ADCU and the other concerned bodies have been following up the cases of Uber workers who have been victimized in one way or the other, with the unions accusing the American company of rushing with the biometric identification system because it wanted to meet requirements to regain permission to operate in London.
Uber had had its operating license suspended over regulatory issues, but won an appeal against TfL leading to its license renewal — for just 18 months instead of the usual five years.
TechCrunch however quoted a TfL spokesperson as saying it did not ask Uber to implement the now disputed facial recognition system as a requirement for their license renewal.
Uber has however tried to deny claims of automated discrimination for its workers, saying disputed biometrics-based automated decisions are often sent to a three-person human panel for further review, and even to a second review panel, in the event where the first cannot find common ground.
“Our Real-Time ID Check is designed to protect the safety and security of everyone who uses the app by ensuring the correct driver or courier is using their account…While no tech or process is perfect and there is always room for improvement, we believe the technology, combined with the thorough process in place to ensure a minimum of two manual human reviews prior to any decision to remove a driver, is fair and important for the safety of our platform…,” Uber told TechCrunch in a statement in reaction to two cases cited by ADCU.
Uber’s justifications notwithstanding, WIE founder James Farrer told TechCrunch he had reservations about the human checks touted by the company. He alleged bias in human judgment on decisions flagged by their facial recognition system, adding that “…it takes a brave human being to override the machine.” WIE is planning to file a discrimination claim on behalf of one driver whose license has been revoked, and subsequently reinstated.
TechCrunch also reported that this development comes after a Netherlands court this month took a major decision against Uber, asking it to hand over some of the data it holds on its drivers, following a legal challenge by ADCU and WIE.
With these and more, Farrer, who has been at the frontline of the campaigns against Uber’s supposed abusive and discriminatory face biometric technology use, said he believes there are brighter days ahead for the company’s workers.
These development come just weeks after an investigation by Wired revealed that about 14 workers of Uber and Uber Eats had suffered abusive treatment, including firing and account blockages, for reasons related to the facial recognition system.