Boston, MA: We spend a lot of time at Confirm thinking about Know Your Customer (KYC). But what about Know Your Driver? Popular ride-sharing apps, Uber and Lyft, came under fire last week when more than 8,000 Massachusetts drivers were pulled from the road after failing new state-sponsored background checks. The debate continues about how technology companies and state legislators can both be satisfied by an identity authentication process that doesn’t sacrifice security for convenience. We recognize the starting point to this solution is technology-enabled digital driver's license verification.
Massachusetts-run background checks found violations for Uber and Lyft drivers ranging from license suspensions to violent crimes and sexual assault charges – accounting for about 11% of the 71,000 drivers reviewed. All 8,206 drivers had previously passed reviews by Uber and Lyft, with some having driven for the companies for the past several years. Ride-sharing companies are currently limited by state law to look into only the last seven years of an applicant’s history, which explains the discrepancy between the government’s review and Uber and Lyft’s driving policies. The state review looked back seven years for reckless driving violations, license suspensions, and less serious violent crimes, but looked throughout the entirety of a driver’s record for sexual crimes, more serious violent crime, and drunken driving charges that resulted in injury or death.
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the review process on both sides. On the one hand, Massachusetts state legislators say that passengers are potentially at risk with current background check policies, under which Uber drivers have recently been accused of sexual assault, kidnappings, DUIs, and other serious incidents with passengers over the past few years. Uber argues that looking into a driver’s background in perpetuity is “unfair and unjust,” denying thousands of drivers “access to economic opportunity.”
Outside of Massachusetts, driver background checks are largely left as the responsibility of the ride-sharing company. But this opens up a legislative and public interest debate about whether the checks these companies are performing are extensive or far-reaching enough. Says Donna Blythe-Shaw, a labor organizer and advocate for Boston cab drivers, “the system is deeply flawed” for ride-sharing background checks
There’s been a push in many cities to create legislation that requires Uber and Lyft to fingerprint drivers – as cab companies are currently required to do. But this policy requires drivers to visit a physical location to be fingerprinted, creating friction that is fundamentally oppositional to the on-demand economy business model of efficient, mobile-based transactions. In fact, legislation in Austin, Texas that required drivers to be fingerprinted caused Uber and Lyft to no longer operate in the city.
At Confirm, this challenge of remote identity verification is right up our alley. So, we have to wonder why certain P2P services aren't openly embracing technologies that exist to authenticate drivers remotely, and why state legislators are not getting behind more in depth background check requirements across the board. Without regulation, ride-sharing companies are effectively making their own rules about background checks – in many cases forgoing extensive checks to reduce friction in the onboarding process, authenticate drivers quickly, and ensure they can maintain the status of their drivers as something closer to contractors than employees.
But what are the alternatives to requiring drivers to visit a physical location to submit fingerprints, or having the state involved in conducting background checks? Ride-sharing companies and state legislators could meet in the middle with secure, convenient, and credible mobile driver's license authentication technology from a variety of partners. For example, with Confirm at the front of the process, data from the driver’s ID could be quickly extracted and verified. Then, that data can be assured it's valid as it's delivered downstream, into automated background and driving record checks. This would allow the ridesharing companies to quickly validate that the driver both is who he says he is, and sufficiently passes the background check with a clean driving and criminal record.
The technology to perform digital ID verification and automated, remote background checks exists. Ride-sharing companies and legislators both could be satisfied by the convenience and credibility these services provide. At Confirm, we understand and believe in the peer-to-peer model and the variety of ways in which mobile technology can make life easier, and safer, for consumers. Now it’s time for Uber, Lyft, and state legislators to embrace digital identity verification as the perfect compromise in this new economy.