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Uber under fire yet again, this time with their facial recognition technology

Published: 11th March 2021
Area: Employment

Hot on the heels of the recent Supreme Court decision, where Uber drivers were found to be workers in accordance with the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Uber name has come under fire yet again. Allegations have been made by Uber Eats couriers claiming that the company’s “racist” facial recognition software resulted in their engagement being terminated.

What is facial recognition technology and how does it work?

Facial recognition is a way of confirming an individual’s identity using their face, either via a photo, video or in real-time. It uses algorithms to identify specific and distinctive characteristics, such as distance between the eyes or shape of the chin, which are then compared to faces collected previously in a face recognition database.

What facial recognition technology does Uber Eats use?

Uber Eats, which is a subsidiary of Uber, uses facial recognition software/face matching software developed by Microsoft to verify the identity of its couriers. When logging onto the platform to accept “work”, couriers are required to take a selfie and submit it for verification, so that Uber Eats can ensure they are not subcontracting their work to other individuals.

As a result of the software’s inability to correctly match selfies taken by couriers of a BAME background to the photos on their Uber Eats file, couriers have been threatened with termination, had their accounts frozen or had access to the Uber Eats platform permanently blocked – leading to their ability to “work” as an Uber Eats courier permanently terminated.

What are the concerns around facial recognition technology, such as Uber’s?

Facial recognition software has a well-known reputation for failing to identify individuals from BAME backgrounds. Notably, in 2018, Uber was sued by a driver who claimed that his access to Uber’s platform was terminated after the facial recognition software, which was similar to that used by Uber Eats, failed on multiple occasions to successfully match the selfies he had taken to the driver’s photo on Uber’s database.

What does this recent case highlight for employers?

Where an employer is relying on facial recognition software for verification purposes, the employer must ensure that they have appropriate safeguards/procedures in place which allows the company to verify an individual’s identify if/where the facial software recognition has failed.

This is of particular importance where such failures may put some staff at a particular disadvantage, compared to others, and could therefore give rise to claims of indirect discrimination.

We’re here to help

If you have any concerns or queries regarding facial technology, and the potential issues that can occur, then we can help. Our team of experts can advise you on the various legal aspects of facial recognition software, including data protection and employment law issues.

For more information, advice or support please contact Danielle Humphries or another member of our employment team.

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