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Unions Warn of Pattern of Algorithm Racism Impacts Uber Eats Drivers

An Uber Eats courier claims he was blocked from the app after failing its ID verification, but he is not the first says the IWGB Union. Sian Norris reports

Uber Eats courier in London. Photo: Marcin Rogozinski/Alamy

Unions Warn ‘Pattern’ of Algorithmic RacismImpacts Uber Eats Couriers

An Uber Eats courier claims he was blocked from the app after failing its ID verification, but he is not the first says the IWGB Union. Sian Norris reports

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A delivery driver has been blocked by UberEats after its ID verification failed to recognise his photo, in what the IWGB union claims is a pattern of discrimination against black and minority ethnic workers.

Umar Sadique had been working as a delivery driver when the app asked him to share a selfie to confirm his identity. He used a photo saved on his phone, but when he uploaded the picture to the app, it failed to verify him. He was then blocked and no longer able to take orders, making him effectively fired. 

Real-Time ID Checks are designed to keep users safe by protecting accounts from potential fraud and to prevent unauthorised account takeovers.

Believing this to be a mistake that could be easily rectified, Sadique contacted Uber Eats. But three months later, he has yet to be reinstated. 

“They couldn’t give me the answers,” Sadique tells Byline Times. “So I said, why have I been blocked? And what is the reason? I’ve emailed so many times. Nothing happened. So they couldn’t tell me nothing at all”.

“If Uber Eats decides that the selfie is not you, then you can just be fired with no further process,” explains Laura Wormington, the IWGB organiser supporting Sadique with his case. “In any other job, if you were fired on the spot you would expect it to be about something very serious. But in this situation, Mr Sadique hasn’t even been given the chance to explain exactly what happened”. 


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Sadique recognises that one of the issues with the photo was that he was clean-shaven in the photo he used to sign up to the app, and had a beard in the photo he used to verify his ID. But he also believes that race plays its part. When Byline Times asked whether he was concerned that the algorithm struggled to recognise black and brown skin, over white skin, or if it was because of facial hair or wearing a different t-shirt, he told us “the first one”.

Unwilling to give up, Sadique drove to a meeting at Uber Eats’ office in Manchester. He was told to bring his passport and driver’s licence to the meeting, and assumed his identity would then be verified. 

“They just said: we cannot tell you the reason again,” he says. “That’s it. So I just went for no reason. They gave me an appointment, and nothing happened. They didn’t even see my passport or my driving licence”.

Losing his access to work with no explanation and seemingly no recourse has left Sadique feeling “blue”. As a busy father of five, working as a driver gave him the flexibility he needed to do the school run, care for his wife, and earn money for him family. Now he’s worried about how to make ends meet in the cost of living crisis. 

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Sadique insists. “I was just working as normal. No complaints from customers”. 

Uber confirmed to Byline Times that “No one can be deactivated based on the technology alone. Uber uses Microsoft’s face verification technology, combined with our own thorough process with human reviews, for the purposes of facial verification”. 

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Block Pattern

According to the IWGB union, there is a “pattern” of black and minority ethnic drivers and delivery drivers being fired after failing a photo identification. The system is designed to ensure drivers are not allowing other people to use their profile on the app. 

In 2020, Abiodun Ogunyemi was blocked by Uber Eats for “improper use of the Uber application” after the app failed to recognise his photo. At the time, IWGB had received reports from 35 other drivers in a similar situation. Another courier, Pa Manjang, sued Uber Eats in July this year after the app failed to recognise his selfie. 

“The vast majority of cases that we have are from people who are not white,” says Wormington. “But that’s the case for the majority of workers in the app industry. At the same time, this technology has been found to be discriminatory”.

In 2018, a similar version of the software failed to identify one in five darker-skinned female faces and one in 17 darker-skinned male faces. When the majority of Uber Eats drivers are black and minority ethnic, this clearly poses an issue. 

Wormington has another concern, too, around surveillance and privacy. “People shouldn’t be experiencing that kind of intense surveillance in their day to day work,” she tells Byline Times

Uber Eats couriers are considered self-employed, although Wormington points out that for many drivers like Sadique, it’s a full time job and the main source of income. “The level of control,” she adds, pointing to the surveillance issue, “is much more like a worker than someone who is self-employed”. 

Sadique now hopes his situation gets resolved soon. “Uber was flexible, it was really good,” he said. “I could pick my kids up, drop my kids off school. When you put the app on, then you’ve got your job. Now they have blocked me, they blocked my number, my email. I’m blue, to be honest”. 

An Uber spokesperson said: “Our Real-Time ID Check is designed to protect the safety and security of everyone who uses the Uber app. The system includes robust human review to make sure that we’re not making decisions about someone’s livelihood in a vacuum, without oversight”. 

It also confirmed that “earners can choose whether their selfie is initially checked by verification technology or by our human reviewers. In the event of a potential photo mismatch for earners using the verification technology, earners always go through a thorough review process before any action is taken. All human reviews include a minimum of three human reviews”.

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