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New Face Recognition for Uber Drivers

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Uber has scarcely been out of the headlines since the taxi company started operating in London in 2012. The idea of hiring a taxi from an app on your smartphone took off quickly, and Uber soon started operations in other UK cities. The service has been controversial though. There have been complaints from black cab drivers about the quality of the service being offered by Uber, and concerns about payment and employment rights for the drivers. In London, concerns about the lack of proper disclosure checks for Uber drivers led to the company’s licence being suspended. The legal battle is still ongoing. Although most concerns have been raised about the situation in London, other cities are taking their own steps to ensure passenger safety. In February 2020, Birmingham City Council announced that they were going to trial face recognition to help verify the identity of Uber drivers.

 

How Will It Work?

Currently, Uber operates the same policy for licensing drivers as other taxi companies. All drivers need a private hire licence issued by the Local Council, which involves a range of checks on themselves and their vehicles. The process varies across the country, but one thing which every Council does is runs an enhanced DBS check on drivers. This is the most detailed level of disclosure check and will look at all crimes and cautions on the driver’s criminal record, not just the most recent ones. This level of checking is designed to weed out anyone whose criminal past could potentially put passengers at risk.

The potential weak spot in the system is making sure that the person who has been through the enhanced DBS process is the person who is actually behind the wheel when the taxi turns up. Uber operates differently to a traditional taxi in that you get the name of the person who’s picking you up, and a photo of them. However, that doesn’t always make it easier to verify identity, especially if it’s dark and you’re feeling pressure to jump into the back of a car stopped on a busy street. Facial recognition is designed to deal with this issue.

 

Updated App

These increased safety measures will be incorporated into the Uber app, which is used by both drivers and passengers. Drivers won’t be able to log into the app and start picking up fares if their facial features don’t match the images on file. This is similar to the technology used to open the latest generation of iPhones, replacing a fingerprint. Another update to the app allows passengers to share access with trusted friends and family, who can follow their route on screen.

The Uber app also includes an emergency button which automatically calls 999 when pressed. The app shares information about the make and model of the car as well as the location with the emergency services. This button has a dual purpose; to allow riders to alert police in they are worried about a driver, but also to get in touch with emergency services quickly if there is an accident.