An Uber driver who lost his job when automated facial recognition software failed to recognize him accuses the company of indirect racial discrimination in a legal case.
The black driver, who worked on the Uber platform from 2016 to April 2021, filed a complaint with the labor court alleging that his account was illegally disabled when facial verification software used to log drivers into the ridesharing app decided he wasn’t who he said he was.
The Self-Employed Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which is backing the action, said at least 35 other drivers had their registration with Uber terminated due to alleged errors with the software from the start. of the pandemic. He asks Uber to remove the “racist algorithm” and reinstate the dismissed drivers.
Uber said it “strongly refutes completely unfounded claims” and was “determined to fight racism and be a champion of equality – both inside and outside our business “. The company said the controls were “designed to protect the safety and security of everyone who uses the app by making sure the right driver is using their account.” Drivers can choose human verification of their image, and when technology is chosen, “there is always a minimum of two human expert reviews before any decision to remove a driver,” she said.
Uber has used the software since April 2020. In 2019 Microsoft, which manufactures the software, conceded facial recognition software didn’t work as well for people of color and might not recognize them.
Studies of several facial recognition software packages showed that error rates when recognizing people with darker skin were higher than those with lighter skin, although Microsoft and others improved performance. Uber said its software did not rely on scanning a large number of faces, which had been accused of introducing errors. Rather, he checked an already uploaded photo of the driver against his freshly submitted selfie.
In London, nine in ten private drivers are black or black Britons, Asian or Asian Britons, or mixed race, according to one recent TfL survey.
“Uber’s continued use of an ineffective facial recognition algorithm on people of color is discriminatory,” said Henry Chango Lopez, general secretary of the IWGB. “Hundreds of drivers and couriers who served during the pandemic lost their jobs without due process or evidence of wrongdoing. “
A Nigerian driver who worked on the Uber Eats platform in Manchester until it was locked in March after several unsuccessful attempts using facial verification software, said his family had suffered “severe suffering” as a result .
Abiodun Ogunyemi, married with three children, said he had accumulated so much debt that he could not afford his son’s bus ticket to school. He says the photo on Uber’s files didn’t show the longer hair or beard he currently has, but he has a distinctive scar on one eye and the rest of his face is visible. “I think the algorithm discriminates against people of color,” he said. “I know about five black people who have had the same thing. “
Uber said anyone removed from the platform could appeal the decision, with additional human scrutiny.
On April 10, the driver of the test case, who asked not to be named, attempted to log in for work by submitting a photo through the app, but received a message from Uber saying he did not had not verified his identity and had been banned from the system for 24 hours. He submitted a second photo after that time, which didn’t work out either.
According to his complaint, four days later his account was deactivated and a message was sent to him: “Our team has carried out a thorough investigation and the decision to end the partnership has been made on a permanent basis. The case is not further investigated. “
His case is also supported by the Black Lives Matter organization which said, “The gig economy, which already creates immense precariousness for key black workers, is now further exacerbated by this software.”
Microsoft declined to comment on an ongoing court case.