Uber is launching a new safety feature in South Africa today that will require drivers to periodically take a selfie to confirm their identity.

The “Real-Time ID check” prompts drivers to take a selfie before going online to verify that it is indeed them behind the wheel.

The feature uses facial recognition to compare the selfie with an image of the driver that Uber has on record. According to the firm the verification process takes a few seconds and the driver will be able to go online.

Should the selfie and the image on file not match, the driver won’t be permitted to go online until Uber has looked into the situation.

“It is important to us that this extra security feature does not inconvenience driver-partners. For this reason, we focused on making the user experience as simple as possible from the beginning of the project, testing it on driver-partners around the world to ensure it is a simple, effective and quick experience,” general manager for Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa, Alon Lits said in a statement.

The firm said it tested a number of authentication methods including voice and gesture recognition. The trouble with voice, Uber found, was that in environments with lots of traffic the quality of voice decreased. Gesture recognition proved to be too steep a learning curve for some drivers.

The firm settled on facial recognition because “taking a selfie is a language that people all over the world understand,” says Uber. We think The Chainsmokers had something to do with that.

The new safety feature should help drivers and riders avoid instances of fraud where the person behind the wheel isn’t the same as the person on the app.

So next time your Uber is a bit tardy, don’t be mad, they might have just been trying to get that perfect selfie.

[Image – CC BY 2.0 Richard Ricciardi]
Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.