Ride-hailing companies like Uber have long been under the microscope for questionable safety standards. Although the company has practices in place to conduct checks in all its markets, China is notorious for drivers faking accounts and rides — sometimes, multiple drivers share an account or unregistered drivers borrow their friends' phones and split earnings. To counter fraud like this, the company is launching facial recognition tests for drivers in China.
Snap a selfie to drive
The $62.5 billion unicorn is upping its safety standards by using live face checks at the time of registration as well as for periodic spot checks while the driver is online. When prompted, drivers will have to take selfies before continuing to pick up riders.
"The realtime ID check is a safety feature we are rolling out that helps ensure the driver going online matches the driver account we have on file. This is just another example of features we’re always exploring to improve our safety processes," the company told The Verge. If there is a discrepancy, the driver's account will be temporarily deactivated while they investigate.
Uber struck a deal with Face++, a Chinese facial recognition startup, to come up with this new feature. It is currently in beta and is expected to be part of the driver's app in China next month. The startup had partnered earlier with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma for his "selfie payment" demo at a tech conference in Germany in March 2016.
This is not the first time Uber has released a country-specific feature. For instance, after the alleged rape of a woman in Delhi by an Uber driver, the company added a panic button to the app in India, which allows riders to contact an emergency line with two taps. Now, after growing driver fraud in China, the live face check will aid riders, drivers, and Uber in keeping track of the authenticity of the driver.
By giving the rider the license plate number, driver's photo, GPS tracking, and ability to share their ETAs with people, the company tries to offer more information and control to the rider than a traditional taxi. Still, safety has been a primary concern as drivers with criminal histories have slipped through the system from time to time.
Should Uber fingerprint drivers?
Often, it has been suggested that the company fingerprint its drivers for more accurate information but Uber argues that using national, state, and local databases stacks up fairly well against other background check alternatives and are less time-consuming processes. However, labor law experts argue the company fears that mandating a biometric check could be construed to suggest Uber is treating drivers like employees instead of independent contractors. Giving off that impression could be problematic for Uber as it gears up for a California lawsuit over worker classification later this year.