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Biometric results prompting appealed Uber suspensions checked against themselves by TfL

Biometric results prompting appealed Uber suspensions checked against themselves by TfL

Ride hailing company Uber has faced numerous legal challenges from London Transport regulator TfL since 2017, and is still in the midst of controversy as multiple instances of misidentification of drivers via the company’s facial verification-based ID system have led to drivers’ licenses being revoked, reports Computer Weekly.

The driver ID verification system in question, with a biometric algorithm supplied by Microsoft, was put into place last year after it was alleged that thousands of unauthorized drivers fraudulently took Uber calls, operating without insurance while stealing business from legitimate drivers.

The union of drivers say that TfL has become overly reliant on the facial verification system, in the appeals process. In multiple cases reversed by Magistrates’ Courts, TfL was found to have revoked a driver’s private hire license on identity fraud grounds by relying solely on evidence from Uber’s facial verification software without conducting an independent investigation.

Though TfL had previously approved of the ID system, the ACDU and Worker Info Exchange (WIE) claim that TfL had placed pressure on Uber to quickly implement facial recognition identity technology in order to keep its right to operate in London, which TfL has denied.

General secretary of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) James Farrar says drivers can usually continue working while a decision is appealed, but not in cases of alleged fraud. In the case of the reinstated driver, Farrar says the driver’s suspension was applied to both the food delivery and private hire licenses, though the alleged violation applied only to the former. “Even if he had engaged in any kind of identity fraud, which he didn’t [as the court decision found], he would only have done it as a delivery driver but TfL revoked the [private hire] licence anyway. There was no question he did anything wrong while acting as a licensed driver.”

Microsoft commented on the allegations against Uber’s Real-Time ID Check system, saying the company is “committed to testing and improving Face API, paying special attention to fairness and its accuracy across demographic groups,” according to a company spokesperson.

Research conducted into Microsoft’s Face API in 2018 suggested it is less accurate, or biased against certain demographics, yet the issue between Uber and TfL is ongoing, with cases of driver misidentification proliferating.

“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,” says Uber.

A court in Amsterdam, where Uber’s European headquarters are located, ruled earlier this year that the company’s decision to terminate the employment of six drivers was “based solely on automated processing, including profiling,” in violation of the EU’s General Data Protection Rule (GDPR).

TfL declined to comment to Computer Weekly on the court findings that it has relied solely on evidence from Uber rather than performing its own investigations in licensing reviews.

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