Uber driver Neradi Srikanth was locked out of his driver account after he had his head shaved in Tirupati, the Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union (TGPWU) said in a press note on Thursday. TGPWU alleged that the facial recognition software used by Uber to routinely verify drivers failed when Srikanth tried to log in after shaving his head. Asa result he has not been able to drive his car on the ride-hailing service for 34 days, even as he tried approaching an Uber office for help.
Srikanth, 22, operates in Hyderabad and has completed 1,428 trips over one and a half years, the union said in a release. In a press statement, Uber denied that Srikanth’s suspension was done in error. The company said:
The driver in question did not lose access to the Uber app due to a change in physical appearance. In fact, he had visited an Uber Partner Seva Kendra when he was unable to log in and it was communicated to him that his access to the app had been previously removed due to repeated violations of our community guidelines, which set the highest possible safety standards on our platform.
Uber’s facial comparison tool helps ensure that only the registered driver is using the account and is capable of detecting natural changes in a person’s appearance such as long or cropped hair. In case drivers face a problem logging in due to any technical issue with the selfie verification process, they have the option to visit the nearest Uber Partner Seva Kendra for a manual review of their profile.
A spokesperson declined to say what the “repeated violations of our community guidelines” constituted.
Facial recognition: Why does Uber use facial recognition for drivers? Safety is one reason, but there’s also another factor due to which the company is incentivised to routinely verify that a cab is being driven by the same person: the firm provides incentives to drivers who are able to complete more trips and drive for a longer period of time in a day. Some drivers share their vehicles with others in an effort to attain those incentive payouts that they would otherwise not be able to hit the targets for. And in fighting against this practice, Uber has handed over the power (and the responsibility) to an imperfect facial recognition systems which can lead to exclusion.
Community guidelines: And then there is the mention of “community guidelines,” which is an implicit result of Uber’s employment policies whereby drivers on the app are not technically as employees, but are contract workers. In the absence of traditional protections afforded to employees (which could protect them from things like arbitrary deplatforming) the relationship between Uber and drivers is that of a “community” as opposed to one of an employer and a worker. This tilts the balance of power towards Uber and against its drivers.
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