Uber Is Being Sued Over Its ‘Racist’ Facial Recognition Algorithm

The UK-based Independent Workers’ Union (IWGB) announced Wednesday that it is taking Uber to court over its facial recognition algorithm, which it claims discriminates against people of color.

The labor union’s legal complaint, which was shared with Motherboard, specifically concerns Uber’s “Real Time ID Check,” a facial recognition tool that periodically has drivers submit selfies through the Uber app to verify their identity. The IWGB filed the complaint on behalf of one of its members who was fired in April after failing two consecutive ID checks.

“After submitting his photograph through the App, the Claimant received a message from Uber stating that he had failed to verify his identity and that his account had been waitlisted for 24 hours,” the complaint reads. “On 14 April 2021 the Claimant was informed by Uber that his account had been deactivated after the second attempt at verification.”

“Before the decision was taken, the claimant was never offered a human facial recognition check,” it added.

After the decision, the driver allegedly went to Uber’s head office in London to challenge his deactivation. According to the complaint, an Uber staff member confirmed that “the real-time photograph was a match with the profile picture of the Claimant that Uber had on file,” but told the driver “he was not able to do anything about this.”

“This is just one example of [Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic] BAME drivers being terminated without due process,” Nader Awaad, chair of the IWGB’s driver branch, told Motherboard in a phone call. “A few weeks ago I sent a letter to Uber asking them to sit down at the table with us and talk. It was an attempt to extend an olive branch, but I never received a reply.”

Nader claimed he knew more than a hundred drivers who have had issues with Uber’s ID check. In March, 14 BAME UberEats couriers told Wired that their accounts were frozen and in some cases terminated because they failed an ID check.

Uber’s real time ID check relies on Microsoft’s Face API facial recognition tool. In its complaint, the IWGB cites a 2019 MIT study which found that the Face API is five times more likely to make an error when identifying a darker-skinned person compared to a lighter-skinned person. Researchers have also found that all major facial recognition systems demonstrate similar bias against people with darker skin.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

In coordination with the lawsuit, the IWGB announced a strike action outside Uber’s London headquarters backed by Black Lives Matter UK. It also called on consumers to boycott the company for 24 hours.

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