In an effort to reduce fraud on driver accounts and reassure riders their driver is who the app claims they are, Uber has introduced a new security measure called “Real-Time ID” that requires drivers take a selfie from time to time. The whole process takes a few seconds, and if the selfie doesn’t match the details Uber has on file the driver account is temporarily blocked until Uber’s made sure everything is above board.
Uber says it investigated voice-, facial- and gesture-recognition technologies but settled on facial-recognition via images because it proved the most practical and accurate. Also, it argues that “taking a selfie is a language that people all over the world understand”. Anyone who’s ever been to any remotely famous public space — or stood near a group of teenagers for more than five minutes — can attest to this.
“It is important to us that this extra security feature does not inconvenience driver-partners,” says Alon Lits, GM for Uber sub-Saharan Africa. “For this reason, we focused on making the user experience as simple as possible from the beginning of the project, testing it on driver-partners around the world to ensure it is a simple, effective and quick experience.”
The solution was first tested in the US and may be rolled out to other markets beyond South Africa if Uber deems it necessary. In South Africa it’s being rolled out in phases, so not all drivers will see it immediately.
Asked whether fraudsters can trick the system using a printed image of the driver (or one on a screen), Uber says it’s “working on new capabilities that can detect a 2D image from a 3D face”. Which suggests the current ones can be tricked, but that the company is at least aware of the problem and addressing it.
To ensure the feature works at night, Uber designed part of its user interface so the screen displays a bright image and acts like a front-facing flash.
Of course, for many drivers and riders, Uber’s security is the least of their worries. With the company haemorrhaging top execs in recent weeks, struggling to fill key positions, facing accusations of rampant sexism and a toxic corporate culture, and being slapped with a lawsuit by Google parent company Alphabet over alleged self-driving tech thievery, the bigger concern is whether the service will still exist in a decade’s time, or whether it’ll be overtaken by similar services like Taxify locally, or Lyft in the US and elsewhere.
That’s the biggest challenge Uber faces if you ask us: because it doesn’t own any of its infrastructure and can’t realistically expect loyalty from its drivers or riders its entirely possible copycat services could turn Uber’s bad press to their advantage and lure drivers (and subsequently, riders) to them with more appealing rates or terms of service. Or, you know, just by dropping the dude-bro posturing and not treating drivers like they’re a nuisance that it can’t wait to replace with robots.