Gig workers union to complain to PM, state govts against Uber & Ola

The union is angry because an Uber driver said he lost his job because the ride-haling app could not recognise his face after he shaved his head at Tirupati, but the company says access to the app was denied for violation of guidelines, not because of his new appearance.

April 02, 2021 / 06:32 PM IST

Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union, which red-flagged the controversial sacking of a Hyderabad-based Uber driver, plans to reach out to the central and state governments with technological issues faced by gig workers, demanding strict action against companies such as Uber and Ola.

The association has invited people across the country who have been impacted by the technological issues on platforms of the cab hailing firms to share their stories and be a part of the movement.

This union had taken up the case of Uber driver Niredi Srikanth, who could not continue with the ride hailing service after he came back from Tirupati with a shaven head.

Srikant claims that the Uber app did not allow him to log in because it failed to recognise his changed appearance. Uber says the driver lost access to the app for violating community guidelines of the company, not because his changed appearance. The company however has not shared details about which guidelines were violated.

"Uber needs to explain what they mean by violation of community guidelines. It's a question of somebody's livelihood," said Shaik Salauddin, president of Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union who flagged out the issue on the micro-blogging site earlier this week.

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As per the community guidelines page of Uber, a driver can loose his job for multiple reasons which includes cancellation rates, making physical contact with riders, use of inappropriate language or gesture, deliberately increasing the time or distance of a trip or allowing someone else to use his account.

When questioned by Moneycontrol, the company declined to clarify on the reason for removing Srikanth out of the app citing privacy concerns. However a source claimed Srikanth was learnt to be allowing other people to log in through his app which is strictly prohibited owing to security reasons.

Moneycontrol reached out to Srikanth to seek clarity on the allegation. He categorically denied having engaged in any such activities and said he never received any warnings on these lines from Uber.

Srikanth has been driving with Uber for over 1.5 years and holds a decent 4.67 star rating. These ratings are provided by customers basis their experience while riding in the cab with a driver.

The 24-year old driver who pays a monthly instalment of Rs 16,000 for the Swift Desire car he uses for Uber besides Rs 6,000 as rent  for the one-bedroom apartment in Hyderabad, hasn't earned a single rupee for the last 34 days.

Moneycontrol spoke to legal experts who questioned Uber’s argument, especially if the company claims to have robust facial-recognition technology.

"If the app is working and they are not letting anybody else log in through the account, they should be happy about their algorithm and should go all over the town stating how their technology was able to stop somebody else from logging into the driver's account," Anushka Jain, associate counsel for transparency and right to information at Internet Freedom Foundation told Moneycontrol.

Uber has claimed that the facial comparison tool on the app is can detect natural changes in a person's appearance such as long or cropped hair.

Jain said facial recognition continues to be a controversial technology across the globe and is being contested everywhere.

"All over the world nobody has been able to develop a 100% accurate facial recognition technology system right now. USA has banned its use in schools and many countries are also banning it for use by the police. There have been instances where people were identified as criminals at large, misled by this technology. In this case even as there hasn't been a criminal issue, this person has lost his livelihood overnight.  Companies should either stop using facial recognition or try to ensure that the technology is not mandatory and the sole way of authentication of identity," she said.

Uber and Ola did not immediately comment on the association's plans to write to the government.
Priyanka Sahay
first published: Apr 2, 2021 06:32 pm

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