By Parmy Olson and Sarah E. Needleman
LONDON -- This city's decision to revoke Uber Technologies
Inc.'s operating license opens a window into what drivers say has
been a relatively common practice of sharing or renting out driver
accounts at a number of ride-hailing apps.
Transport for London, the city's main transportation regulator,
said earlier this week it determined 14,000 Uber rides in late 2018
and early 2019 weren't conducted by authorized drivers, but by
others who had been able to substitute their photos to use a real
Several drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps, in London
and elsewhere, say the practice of account sharing is an open
secret, discussed in private groups on social media or on messaging
apps used by drivers. Uber says account sharing is an issue
globally, including in the U.S.
Jay Johnson of Brandon, Fla., who has been an Uber driver for
about six years, said other drivers told him a few times that they
shared their accounts with relatives. He occasionally socializes
with other drivers at Tampa International Airport, where the topic
His passengers also described getting into cars with Uber
drivers who didn't look anything like the photos on the Uber app.
"It's not unusual, " said Mr. Johnson, 52 years old.
People who rent accounts and cars from Uber drivers do so in
most cases because they lack a driver's license, would likely fail
a background check or can't afford a car, said Harry Campbell, a
former Uber driver and author of the Rideshare Guy blog. "Usually
the reasons are nefarious, " he said.
Account sharing "is a dirty little secret" among American
drivers, said Bryant Greening, co-founder of LegalRideshare LLC, a
personal-injury law firm in Chicago representing Uber and other
ride-share drivers nationwide. "I don't think this is a problem
like in London, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen here."
An Uber spokeswoman said different account-sharing issues come
up in different countries for different reasons. "We see so many
different flavors of fraud in different markets," she said. Uber in
a statement Monday, in response to the London license decision,
said it was committed "to constantly updating and strengthening our
processes" to guard against fraud.
The issue identified in London involved 43 drivers who managed
to trick the Uber app into thinking they were inside special Uber
offices. The offices, called Greenlight hubs, are the only place
where drivers in London can update their profile photo.
Uber said it remedied the photo-fraud problem in London in
October and rolled out fixes world-wide. The Uber spokeswoman,
however, said it isn't necessarily a "silver bullet."
Drivers say photo swapping provides a simple way for one driver
to temporarily transfer access to an authorized ride-hailing
account to someone else. Drivers taking a vacation or an extended
break, for instance, can try to rent out their Uber credentials to
others. Another technique: Two or more drivers can alternate shifts
on the same account.
Sometimes the transfer is made to friends or acquaintances, and
sometimes to strangers, according to drivers and a survey of chat
rooms and Facebook groups for app-based drivers where these account
rentals are solicited.
Swapping photos can also allow nonauthorized drivers to access
accounts at other ride-hailing apps. One licensed driver in London,
for example, showed a reporter how he was able, with a few taps on
his phone, to swap out his profile photo with another person's
photo on ViaVan and London Carriages' Passenger app, two smaller
ride-hailing apps that operate in London.
A spokeswoman for ViaVan Technologies BV said that if drivers
update their profile independently within the app, any new photo
wouldn't be visible to a ViaVan rider until it had been approved by
a member of the company's compliance team. "ViaVan is in full
compliance with all TfL regulations," she said. London Carriages
didn't reply to requests for comment.
In September, Uber said it was working on security enhancements
that would require drivers to look at their smartphone camera, then
blink, smile or turn their head, to help verify their identity.
The unofficial marketplace extends well beyond London. A driver
in South Africa posted a new request in a Facebook group this
month: "Hey guys, I'm looking for a Taxify or Uber account to
rent," he wrote. In an interview, he said he had previously rented
out an account from a driver for Bolt Technologies OU, an Estonian
ride-hailing app previously called Taxify, for eight months. He
paid 400 rand ($27) a week.
Three people responded to his request in comments to his post,
with prices ranging from 400 rand to 1,000 rand.
Bolt declined to comment.
Uber in its statement on social-media posts discussing the
rental of accounts said it had "several safeguards in place to
prevent account sharing (or renting) in the way that is being
advertised" online. In addition to moves put in place to prevent
photo fraud, Uber is alerted when drivers change phone numbers or
log into the same account from several devices. Any changes, for
instance to payment-account details, are flagged for review.
The administrator for one Facebook group for ride-sharing
drivers in London said there are some telltale signs of shared
accounts, including excessive hours. He said most drivers he knew
drove a maximum of 60 to 70 hours a week.
"If you see a car clocked up 140 to 150 hours online in a week,
obviously that vehicle is shared," this driver said. "It's not
Write to Parmy Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Sarah E.
Needleman at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 27, 2019 14:49 ET (19:49 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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