News and notes from Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport

Uber using selfies as security measure

As ride-share services Uber X and Lyft prepare for operations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport under a new set of security regulations, Uber is rolling out a new security measure it has been testing in Atlanta and a few other cities -- using selfies.

For the past several months in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Miami, Uber has been testing a system of occasionally requiring drivers to take a selfie to be matched to the driver's photo on file using Microsoft cognitive technology. It is now expanding the measure to Uber drivers throughout the country, as a layer of security and a fraud prevention.

Sometimes, the requirement for a driver to take a selfie is random. Other times, the identity verification requirement is triggered by a particular scenario, like two trips in succession that are many miles apart -- which could indicate multiple people using a single driver's account on Uber.

Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George said the selfie checks are an example of how technology can be used for safety and security "before, during and after a trip in ways that were never possible before."

If a selfie doesn't match the photo on file, Uber blocks the account temporarily while it contacts the driver. The company says most of the mismatches were due to issues like lighting and sunglasses.

That makes it quite different from the security requirement Hartsfield-Jackson officials were initially considering for Uber to pick up at the airport. Airport officials earlier this year were considering requiring fingerprint-based background checks, before that plan was nixed in favor of allowing companies to choose either the state's fingerprint checks or their own private background checks.

Companies that use their own private background checks will also be subject to an additional per-ride security charge of $2.35 -- on top of a $1.50 fee for each pickup, effective Jan. 1.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the reason for the $2.35 security charge is that "we have less control and less involvement" with those companies' private background checks. "There are new private entities being introduced and we have some concerns about [them]." The surcharge will pay for security improvements at the airport terminal, including additional police officers.

Reed said he sees Uber's selfie security feature as "an enhanced level of protection" and "a significant step beyond the current level of security."


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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.