The next time you see your Uber driver taking a selfie, he isn’t just doing it for likes on Facebook.
Uber has launched a new security feature that will require drivers to identify themselves before going online. And it’s chosen the most 21st century way to do so – via a selfie.
“Real-Time ID Check prompts drivers to share a selfie before going online to help ensure the driver using the app matches the account we have on file. This prevents fraud and protects drivers’ accounts from being compromised,” said Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer at Uber. This feature will ensure that the driver associated with the Uber account is actually driving the Uber car. Until now, there was no way for Uber to verify if its drivers were switching cars between themselves, presenting a potential security risk.
The feature has been launched in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata, and more cities are expected to follow. Uber says it had carried out a pilot test in the US, where its systems were able to correctly identify 99% of the drivers.
Uber’s new system reportedly takes only a few seconds for verification. The company uses Microsoft’s Cognitive Services to compare the submitted selfie against the photo of the driver Uber has on file. Face recognition technology isn’t new – Facebook has been accurately identifying people in pictures for years now – but Uber’s found a clever way to use it to enhance security.
But Uber says it wasn’t as simple as simply plugging in an existing technology into its app. Selfies wouldn’t work well at night, which meant that drivers would’ve been logged out of their systems for being unable to take a picture. To get around this, Uber says it rebuilt its app to create a “very bright UI like a front-facing flash, which makes it easier for partners to verify when they’re going online at night.”
This latest move should help Uber allay some concerns about driver security in India. In 2014, the company had been embroiled in an ugly controversy when one of its partners had raped a woman in Delhi. Since then, there had been repeated demands that Uber provide greater checks and balances on its drivers. This latest move to take selfies checks quite a few boxes – apart from ensuring that its drivers themselves drive their cars, the act of drivers prominently taking selfies before rides should also help soothe the nerves of riders who’re anxious about their safety.