Metro Weekly

Transgender Uber drivers say app’s new security features are getting them suspended

Real-Time ID Check feature may flag those who have transitioned if their appearance differs from the photo on their license

Photo: Daria Nepriakhina, via Wikimedia.

Some transgender Uber drivers say they are being flagged and kicked out of the ride-sharing app due to new security features that don’t take into account their gender transition, reports CNBC.

The new feature, Real-Time ID Check, is intended to verify the identity of drivers in order to ensure passengers’ safety.

As part of the feature, drives will be prompted to take a selfie of themselves. That photo is then compared to the driver’s licenses photo on file using facial recognition software from Microsoft Cognitive Services. If the photos don’t match, the driver’s account is temporarily suspended while Uber investigates.

Janey Webb, a transgender driver from Iowa, says she is one of the drivers whose account was temporarily suspended, even though she tried to upload new photos of herself on her profile throughout her transition. But her efforts were unsuccessful, and was blocked from logging back into Uber’s driver app just prior to this year’s busy Fourth of July weekend.

Webb was prompted to call Uber support, which told her the account had been deactivated because one of her photos did not match her driver’s license on file. She was forced to drive two hours away to the company’s only in-person support center in the state. After she explained the situation, she was told the deactivation was a mistake. But she was told by a company representative that they couldn’t assure her the situation would not occur again.

In total, Webb was forced to miss three days of work. Because Uber drivers are independent contractors, Webb was not reimbursed for the time she was blocked from the app.

For her part, Webb says the security feature needs to be adjusted to take into account transgender drivers who are transitioning.

“A trans person can’t be expected to update their license every three months or so just to avoid being deactivated,” she says.

Another Uber driver, Lindsay, from Michigan, tells CNBC she was also flagged by the new security features and suspended from the app. She estimated that she was prompted to pull over and verify her identity at least 100 times over the past year and a half. She was also forced to drive several hours out of her way to an in-person support center, and lost out on the chance to earn money due to her suspension.

“I don’t think Uber is this evil company,” Lindsay says. “Yeah, their focus is on profit, and one of those things is automating as much as possible, and when you have a system that is so overly automated, people like myself fall within the cracks.”

Real-Time ID Check tells drivers they have been “randomly selected” to verify their identity, but ID checks can also be triggered by potential fraud signals or reports.

An Uber spokesperson told Metro Weekly that ID checks are essential to ensuring the safety of riders, and they ask that drivers keep their profile photos updated to ensure that the driver is the person who has been screened and approved to drive.

“We want Uber to be a welcoming, safe and respectful experience for all who use the app,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “That’s why we maintain clear community guidelines and a nondiscrimination policy for riders and drivers, in addition to many safety features. We continue to focus on ways to advance our tech and constantly improve our app experience.”

The spokeswoman also took issue with Lindsay’s story, saying that, in that instance, the driver “was deactivated for inappropriate behavior at odds with our Community Guidelines an entirely unrelated to real-time ID check or transgender issues.” Regarding Webb’s experience, the spokeswoman said the company was sorry for any inconvenience Webb suffered, but noted that the issue was eventually resolved.

The Uber spokeswoman also noted that Uber has instituted several policies to support transgender employees, riders, and drivers, including allowing them to select their own pronouns in the company’s internal directory. The company has also formed an internal task force to ensure that transgender employees, drivers, and riders feel safe, respected, and included when it comes to company policies.

The spokeswoman added that Uber’s health insurance covers portions of gender confirmation surgery and hormone therapy, and that the company has installed gender-neutral restrooms in its corporate offices. Finally, the company has spoken out against the Trump administration’s efforts to ban transgender service members from the U.S. military.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a response from Uber, including a defense of the company’s pro-transgender policies.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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