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U.S. pols probe Uber, Lyft about facial recognition tech facing riders

U.S. pols probe Uber, Lyft about facial recognition tech facing riders

Biometric privacy is not something most U.S. consumers worry — or even know — about yet, but news of facial recognition systems being installed in Uber and Lyft cars prompted a rapid response from two U.S. senators.

Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Richard Blumenthal rushed a written request for answers about the reported mounting of media tablets with cameras that face consumers who have hailed rides.

The facial recognition systems, created by the third-party AI vendor Alfi, can observe and analyze riders as they view content during their rides. Alfi executives have said that 10,000 media screens with cameras are being installed in cars operating in the Miami area.

Alfi’s play is selling more-quantifiable ad performance to ad-buyers in closer to real-time.

Miami is a test in the U.S. market for Uber, Lyft and Alfi. Some ride-hailing vehicles in London already carry the devices.

Alfi executives might have been hoping to keep the project’s visibility low in Washington. They issued a media release June 17, between the Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays, and with no visible marketing support from the ride-hailers.

June 23, they announced a stock buy-back of up to $2 million of outstanding common stock, a move signaling executives feel shares are undervalued. Shares peaked June 28 and have generally fallen since.

Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and Blumenthal, of Connecticut, on June 29 requested information about, among other things, biometric data collection, storage and deletion.

They also wanted to know if Uber and Lyft had audited Alfi’s processes and procedures for bias and privacy rules that the ride-hailers already follow. Comments to Vice from each of the ride-hailing companies suggested the deployments are being arranged independently with drivers.

Two of the Senators’ questions focus on driver compensation. Alfi claims drivers agreeing to mount the tablets can earn as much as an extra $350 per month, and the senators want to know how those bonuses have total so far. The pair wants to know the average monthly compensation for May was.

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