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Concerned private hire drivers' union calls on Microsoft to suspend Uber’s facial recognition tech

The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) and Worker Info Exchange (WIE) are calling for Microsoft to suspend Uber’s licence to use its facial recognition and worker surveillance systems with Uber’s UK workforce.

The demand comes after the union says they have identified cases of failed facial recognition and other identity checks leading to drivers losing their jobs and licence revocation action by Transport for London (TfL).

According to the ADCU they found one case where the driver was dismissed from employment by Uber and his licence was revoked by TfL. The union say they were able to assist the member driver to establish his identity correctly meaning Uber and Transport for London reversed their decisions.

Microsoft suspended the sale of its facial recognition system to US police forces in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer. The firm recognised that without appropriate safeguards in place, the software could be misused especially with minority groups. Research shows that Microsoft’s facial recognition solution can have an error rate as high as 20% especially when used to identify people of colour.

Uber implemented its workforce electronic surveillance and identification system in a bid to win back its licence after TfL’s decision to not renew its licence in 2019.

The union has also written to the Mayor of London to demand that all TfL private hire driver licence revocations based on Uber reports using evidence from its Hybrid Real Time Identification systems (incorporating Microsoft facial recognition) are immediately reviewed.

James Farrar, Director of Worker Info Exchange, said: “We are unfortunately seeing a surveillance tech arms race in the gig economy, driven in part by platform employers attempting to move to more hidden forms of algorithmic control in a bid to avoid employer liability and in part by greater public pressure on the public licence to operate by regulators like Transport for London.

“Uber has rushed to implement a flawed facial recognition system provided by Microsoft and uses it against a 70,000 strong workforce it is already well known for exploiting but without the appropriate safeguards in place. Microsoft must have no truck with Uber’s exploitation of vulnerable workers, they must suspend Uber’s licence to use this solution immediately.”

Yaseen Aslam, President of the App Drivers & Couriers Union, said: “94% of licensed private hire drivers in London are BAME and Microsoft openly acknowledges that their facial recognition systems have a failure rate of as much as 20% when used with women and people of colour. Based on these statistics and going by our current caseload, thousands of innocent people will lose their jobs and face licensing action if the use of this racist software by Uber is not stopped.

“Private hire drivers in the UK have been exploited enough by Uber without Microsoft adding to the problem.”


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