Uber introduces human reviewers to crack down on drivers evading security selfie system with printed photos after Australian rape case

Photo: ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images
  • Uber has introduced human reviewers to help detect unauthorised drivers on its app and protect the safety of passengers.
  • It follows a trial in Melbourne, in which an unauthorised Uber driver used a fake photograph in 2018 to pass a security check in the app and raped a woman in his home.
  • In 2018, Uber did not have the technology to distinguish between a paper photograph of a person and a selfie of the actual person.

Following a rape case in Victoria, Uber introduced human reviewers and facial recognition technology to help detect when an unauthorised driver uses a fake photograph to pass a security check and drive a car registered to someone else.

During the trial of unauthorised Uber driver Manpreet Singh, who was convicted on Wednesday of raping an intoxicated woman at his house after picking her up in his car in Melbourne, it was revealed Uber’s app had a security flaw that allowed fake drivers to fool the system and pick up passengers.

Singh had used an A4 photograph of an authorised driver to pass the security test that requires drivers to take a selfie before driving their vehicle, according to The Age.

Uber’s “real time ID check” tool, known also as ‘security selfies’, was rolled out in the US in 2016 and arrived in Australia in 2017. It randomly requests Uber drivers to take a selfie before they begin a ride. The tech, which utilises Microsoft’s facial recognition technology, is meant to help prevent the issue of people using cars and Uber accounts registered to other people.

Following Singh’s conviction, unnamed police sources told The Age that people are fooling the security system by holding up photographs of authorised drivers.

According to the report, this technology loophole is being used to run illegal rackets involving up to 10 vehicles and multiple employees under a single authorised account.

In online forums posts prior to 2016 seen by Business Insider Australia, self-identified Uber drivers ask others how to beat the identification system, and are advised to use an existing photograph instead of taking a new photo. It is a breach of community guidelines for someone else to use a driver’s Uber account.

In a statement to Business Insider Australia, Uber denied that this is a current issue. However, the facts of the Singh case make clear the technology was not advanced enough in 2018 to distinguish between a photograph and a face. A spokesperson for Uber said the company has made strides since last year to improve its safety technology and implement Microsoft’s facial recognition technology.

Uber confirmed to Business Insider Australia that it introduced fraud detection technology and a human review process in 2019.

“Uber utilises a security feature called real-time ID check alongside real-time human review and fraud detection technology. Among other checks, this technology can check that the image is not an image of another photo,” an Uber spokesperson said. “Together these help prevent fraud and protect riders by building another layer of accountability into the app to ensure the right person is behind the wheel.”

In late 2018, it also introduced security features including an in-app emergency button for both riders and drivers, the ability to share your trip with others and, more recently, notifications that ask people to check their ride and driver details and contact them immediately if there is a mismatch.

“We also provide driver photos in the app so riders can confirm it’s the right person picking them up. If the driver doesn’t match the photo, report it to Uber right away so we can take action,” the Uber spokesperson said.

The introduction of advanced security features – in particular the ‘check your ride’ functionality – also followed the death in April of a University of South Carolina student who was murdered by a man she thought was her Uber driver but had no connection to the company.

In a change of tune, many Uber drivers are now complaining in online forums of the overly strict technology and the fact they need clear lighting and have to take a photo multiple times to be approved to continue driving. The robustness of the system is good news for passengers, but it may be making things more difficult for legitimate drivers.

Victoria Police said it works closely with rideshare companies with regards to the safety of passengers.

“Victoria Police consults closely with stakeholders such as rideshare services to share intelligence and advice on ways we can work collaboratively to prevent and investigate crime. We are always looking at ways we can improve these relationships and combat any emerging crime issues,” a police spokesperson said.

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