Uber announced today that it’ll require drivers to snap selfies before signing on to the platform and accepting ride requests. The new feature, called Real-Time ID Check, is described as a way to prevent fraud and protects drivers’ accounts from being compromised, but some critics say it’s an acknowledgement by Uber that some drivers have never undergone background checks. It’s also an interesting addition from a company that has long resisted other security measures such as fingerprinting drivers to check for criminal records.
Uber, which has been piloting the driver selfie checks for several months, says that under the new requirement, drivers will be asked periodically to take a selfie in the app before they accept rides. "We then use Microsoft’s Cognitive Services to instantly compare this photo to the one corresponding with the account on file," Uber’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan wrote in a blog post. "If the two photos don’t match, the account is temporarily blocked while we look into the situation."
During the pilot, some mismatches occurred, mostly due to unclear profile photos, Sullivan wrote. "More than 99 [percent] of drivers were ultimately verified," he added. "Given that verification takes only a few seconds to complete, this feature proactively and efficiently builds more security into the app."
Some argue that the new requirement is an admission by Uber that its drivers routinely swap and share accounts. "This is Uber acknowledging drivers share their accounts and the company’s effort to reduce this practice," David Sutton, a spokesperson for the "Who’s Driving You?" public safety campaign run by the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association, wrote in an email to The Verge. "Despite intense criticism of Uber’s screening process, the company is admitting there are drivers who’ve never undergone any form of background check."
Uber is billing the selfie-check system as a way to ensure riders are getting picked by the right person. But this likely won’t stop some stakeholders, including some law enforcement officials, from criticizing the company's system for screening and approving drivers as insufficient. Uber outsources its background checks to a company called Checkr, which is nationally accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.
Before they can start driving for Uber, drivers are required to submit their full name, date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, a copy of their driver's license, vehicle registration, insurance, and proof of a completed vehicle inspection. The ride-hail company does not collect fingerprints from drivers, nor does it require any face-to-face interaction with drivers before allowing them to start accepting fares. Uber argues that fingerprinting would slow down its on-boarding process and prevent it from replacing those drivers that it loses to high turnover.