In a bid to increase security, Uber announced that it will require all drivers to take selfies before signing on to the platform and taking ride requests.
The new Uber safety feature is called Real-Time ID Check and relies on Microsoft Cognitive Services to protect both drivers and riders. The feature aims to prevent fraud and reduce the risk of drivers' accounts being compromised.
Some may argue that it's a workaround that Uber found to avoid having its drivers go through background checks. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick explained back in June that his company is against fingerprinting drivers because the criminal justice system can be unjust, but Uber is not against implementing safety features altogether.
Uber has been adding new safety features for drivers for a while now, including daily reports, break reminders and others. Requiring drivers to take selfies is the latest feature the company came up with, but it's not as crazy as it sounds.
After testing the driver selfie check for a few months, Uber is now rolling out the feature more widely in the United States. From now on, drivers will be periodically asked to take a selfie when signing on to the platform before they accept any rides.
"We then use Microsoft's Cognitive Services to instantly compare this photo to the one corresponding with the account on file," says Joe Sullivan, chief security officer at Uber. "If the two photos don't match, the account is temporarily blocked while we look into the situation."
Sullivan points out that this requirement aims to prevent fraud, protect drivers' accounts, and protect riders by adding an extra "layer of accountability" into the Uber app.
Uber further notes that during the months that it piloted Real-Time ID Check, most mismatches occurred due to unclear driver profile photos, but more than 99 percent of drivers were eventually verified. Verifying a driver's account and selfie to ensure that the right person is behind the wheel only takes a few seconds and can significantly boost safety and security.
While Uber's explanation sounds plausible, some argue that this measure is in fact an admission that Uber drivers frequently swap and share accounts and the company wants to curb this practice.
"This is Uber acknowledging drivers share their accounts and the company's effort to reduce this practice," David Sutton, a spokesperson for a public safety campaign called "Who's Driving You?," notes in an email statement 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."
Selfies may not count as much as a thorough background check, but at least it's a step forward to increase safety. Is it enough, though?