Uber taken to court for ‘racist’ facial recognition software

ITV News London Reporter Martin Stew speaks to drivers who says they were unfairly dismissed due to software that does not recognise people of colour

Uber are being taken to court over the dismissal of workers who unions say were unfairly sacked due to the ride-hailing company's facial recognition algorithm being less likely to recognise darker skinned workers. 

The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) said its case, on behalf of a driver and a courier, was the first of its kind, claiming the company’s facial recognition system failed to identify the workers.

Lawyers for the union will argue that facial recognition systems, including those operated by Uber, are inherently faulty and generate poor accuracy results when used with people of colour.

James Farrar, General Secretary of ADCU, said: “To secure renewal of their licence in London, Uber introduced a flawed facial recognition technology which they knew would generate unacceptable failure rates when used against a workforce mainly composed of people of colour.

Uber drivers protest outside Uber's office in London in one day strike over issues including pay and claims of unfair dismissed. Credit: PA

“Uber then doubled down on the problem by not implementing appropriate safeguards to ensure appropriate human review of algorithmic decision making.”

The union said workers are prompted to provide a real-time selfie, and face dismissal if the system fails to match it with a stored reference photo.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has also filed a claim for indirect racial discrimination on behalf of one of its members, whose account was terminated following what the union described as a facial recognition error.

IWGB members working for Uber staged a 24-hour strike on Wednesday and protested outside the company’s head office in London over the facial recognition issue, as well as pay.

The ADCU staged a strike in eight cities across the UK last week.