Uber sued for ‘racist’ facial recognition algorithm that locks out workers
Uber is being sued for its “racist” facial recognition algorithm which is five times less likely to recognize darker-skinned drivers, preventing them from logging into work.
The Self-Employed Union of Great Britain (IWUGB) is bringing a lawsuit on behalf of an anonymous driver who claims he has been locked out so many times that his account has been closed, citing indirect racial discrimination.
He also calls for a boycott of Uber and demonstrates in front of the London headquarters of the ridesharing company.
Drivers are encouraged to scan their faces, at random intervals, in order to access the back-end of Uber’s system. If they cannot enter, their contracts may be terminated.
Alex Marshall, president of the IWGB and a former concert economy courier himself, said The independent: “The concert economy itself is racist. It mainly exploits migrant and ethnic minority workers. The way it’s set up is to systematically exploit these people and without a fair process in place, it just means people are forced to take very low wages and work under these conditions.
“In legally challenging Uber, that’s something they can’t ignore and the idea is that it blows the lid off the larger issue of unfair treatment.
“If something like an algorithm doesn’t work and fires people for the color of their skin, then what else isn’t working at Uber? Hopefully this can get started, be it Uber, Deliveroo, targeting vulnerable and precarious workers, who are completely abused, chewed up and spat out with one click. “
One in five darker-skinned female faces and one in 20 darker-skinned men fail, a significant problem in London where up to 95% of drivers are black or from an ethnic minority background, according to one study.
The case, which could force Uber to abandon its facial recognition system, was made possible by the right to protection against discrimination affirmed by a Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers are workers protected by legislation on legality.
The drivers’ strike marks the start of a campaign by Black Lives Matter UK and the IWGB to demand that Uber ditch its controversial facial recognition algorithm, reinstate unfairly dismissed drivers and couriers, and introduce the demanded fair termination process. last year by more than 70 deputies.
Obinna Uzoeghelu, 37, who lives in London, started working for Uber Eats in August 2020. His account closed for three months for no reason, for part of that time he continued to work without getting paid and eventually was forced to leave the area.
Mr Uzoeghelu, whose wife was heavily pregnant at the time, said he found it very difficult to chat with Uber, sending numerous emails, using all contact options, to no avail.
It wasn’t until the IWGB stepped in that the reason for his dismissal turned out to be a facial recognition failure. In the end, the union succeeded in having the dismissal overturned but unfortunately it was far too late, the former employee could not have made ends meet if he had waited; he now works for another food delivery service.
“As a father whose wife was about to give birth, I couldn’t sleep when this happened. I kept thinking about how we were going to survive this, ”he said. The independent.
“During that time, you couldn’t even go talk to people about how you felt about the regulations and the Covid lockdown. I was depressed; when you have a job that you think will help you secure an income and is unfairly taken away from you, it is very difficult.
“I was shocked and all the more so since Uber withheld the salary I had earned for several months. I support the calls for a boycott of Uber and a strike; people should stand up and be counted.
Apsana Begum, Labor MP for Poplar and Limehouse, said: “We know that blacks and ethnic minorities are overrepresented in these fields of work, but especially in these layoffs, so the facial algorithm is of great concern.
“I think everyone should log out of their Uber apps if they’re a passenger and show solidarity with drivers across London and beyond. Supporting strike actions like this is important and of course it has an impact in terms of the revenue and profit the company makes – Uber London has made a profit of over £ 6million l ‘last year.
“We talk about super profits year after year, but employees earning poverty wages and failing to uphold their basic rights as employees. I fully support the cause of the strike.
A spokesperson for Black Lives Matter UK said: “The impact of Uber’s facial recognition algorithm reflects a complete lack of care for black people and their livelihoods. The gig economy is already creating a immense precariousness for workers Black Key is now further exacerbated by this software which prevents them from working, solely on the basis of the color of their skin. Racist practices such as these must stop. “