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Uber Eats driver wins payout over discriminatory facial recognition checks

An Uber Eats driver has received a payout to end a legal claim following allegations that the platform’s AI-powered facial recognition checks required to work for the delivery firm were racially discriminatory.

In 2021, Pa Edrissa Manjang was told he was being removed from working for the platform because of “continued mismatches” in the photos he submitted to the facial recognition system required for drivers to access the platform and work.

Mr Manjang, who is black, said he had experienced continuous difficulties with the verification process and was regularly asked to resubmit selfie images of himself to the platform as it did not recognise him, despite no change to his appearance.

Following his dismissal, he launched a legal claim with support and funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), who said they were concerned by the use of artificial intelligence and automation in the case, particularly how it could be used to permanently suspend a driver’s access to the app, and therefore, work.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chairwoman of the EHRC, said: “I am pleased that Pa Edrissa Manjang was able to settle his case with Uber Eats, but he should never have had to bring a legal claim in order to understand the opaque processes that affected his work.

“AI is complex, and presents unique challenges for employers, lawyers and regulators. It is important to understand that as AI usage increases, the technology can lead to discrimination and human rights abuses.

“We are particularly concerned that Mr Manjang was not made aware that his account was in the process of deactivation, nor provided any clear and effective route to challenge the technology. More needs to be done to ensure employers are transparent and open with their workforces about when and how they use AI.

“Every employer should take note of this, even major companies like Uber. When such companies rely on automation to help manage their staff they need to guard against unlawful discrimination.”

Mr Manjang said: “My case shines a spotlight on the potential problems with the use of AI, particularly for low paid workers in the gig economy who want to understand how decisions are being taken which affect their livelihoods. This marks the end of a long and difficult case.

“I am sure the EHRC will use the learnings and experience of this case to move towards strengthening the rights and protections of workers in relation to AI, particularly ethnic minorities.”

An Uber spokesperson said: “Our Real Time ID check is designed to help keep everyone who uses our app safe, and includes robust human review to make sure that we’re not making decisions about someone’s livelihood in a vacuum, without oversight.

“Automated facial verification was not the reason for Mr Manjang’s temporary loss of access to his courier account.”