Uber is developing tech to ensure drivers wear face masks under its new policy

The policy would require both drivers and riders to wear face coverings. Uber's specialized technology to enforce it is ultimately doomed to fail, though.

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Uber will soon require all of its drivers and riders to wear face masks or coverings while using the app in the United States and some other countries, reports CNN Business. According to sources familiar with the matter, the policy was approved by executives last week and will be rolled out “in the coming weeks.”

But Uber doesn’t just plan to use the honor system with its mask policy. The company is also developing technology to detect whether or not drivers are wearing masks before going online and accepting trips, says the source.

Uber already uses a face-ID check to identify drivers; this would be an extension of that. Uber confirmed to CNN Business that yes, it is planning to introduce a face mask policy, and yes, it’s developing technology to detect said face masks.

The ridesharing market is in grave danger right now. With the need for a quick car at an all-time low, both of the market’s major players are contemplating major layoffs. Perhaps Uber’s policy and the tech behind it will allow riders to feel safer and help the hurting company. But it’s unlikely the technology will actually do much to keep riders and drivers safe.

Uber is definitely trying — This is not the first step Uber has taken in combating the spread of COVID-19 through its workforce. For almost a month now, Uber has been shipping masks and disinfectant spray to workers across the world. The company said it would be prioritizing drivers in hardest-hit cities first, like in New York City.

The company has also launched an in-app COVID-19 hub to quickly bring drivers and riders to factual information about the spread of the virus.

Enforcing this will be near impossible — Enforcing the mask rule will be complicated, even with custom software. Based on early reports, Uber’s technology will require riders to confirm they’re wearing a mask when logging into the app. What’s going to stop them from removing the mask after completing their check-in?

It’s also unlikely the app will have the ability to check if a mask is being worn properly. Wearing a mask is new to many people, which means there are bound to be mistakes. The software might allow a driver through the check even with their nostrils uncovered, for example.

Plus there’s the variable of the rider. Uber doesn’t appear to be enforcing mask check-ins for its riders, which leaves the onus on drivers to do so. With profits already plummeting, it’s difficult to imagine a driver turning down a trip because someone isn’t wearing a mask.

In order to truly ensure drivers and riders are wearing masks at all times, Uber would need constant surveillance of every vehicle in its fleet. That’s a level of surveillance we don’t even want to consider.

Uber is right: every driver and rider should be wearing a face mask. In a cramped space like a car, it’s all too easy for the coronavirus to spread from person to person. But specialized tech isn’t going to stop drivers and riders from bending the new rule. The best course of action — as always — is to stay home as much as possible.