2019Transportation Network Companies

Written By ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn

An “alleged war criminal accused of torture and directing mass executions” in Somalia passed the background check process to become a transportation network company (TNC) ride-share driver for Uber and Lyft while living in the United States, according to a report from CNN (Cable News Network).

“They just want your background check, that’s it,” said former Somali military commander Yusuf Abdi Ali, who apparently was unaware that undercover CNN reporters were riding with him and recording the trip on video. “If you apply tonight maybe after two days it will come, you know, everything.”

CNN reported that Ali said he was approved “in a couple of days of applying to be a ride-share driver,” which CNN said “raises new questions about the thoroughness of Uber and Lyft’s background check process and the ease with which some people with controversial pasts can get approved to drive.”

While he was not convicted of a crime, CNN reported that a basic internet search of “Yusuf Abdi Ali” – also known as “Colonel Tukeh” – “turns up numerous documents and news accounts alleging he committed various atrocities while serving as a military commander during Somalia’s civil war in the 1980s.”

Following the report by CNN, Uber “suspended Ali’s access to the app as it reviewed the matter” while Lyft “permanently banned Ali from the platform.” The complete CNN report is available at www.cnn.com/2019/05/14/business/uber-driver-accused-war-criminal-invs/.

An investigation by CNN in 2018 found at least 103 drivers in the U.S. working for Uber “have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the past four years” and as many as “31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape.”

The CNN investigation – which examined police reports and court records from 20 major U.S. cities for complaints involving sexual assault by ride-share drivers – also found 18 cases of drivers for Lyft drivers being accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the past four years with four convictions.

In the wake of that CNN investigation, Uber began conducting annual background in April 2018 and also started to perform continuous background checks in July 2018 so it can be notified if a driver is newly charged with a criminal offense. In April 2019, Lyft began continuous background checks on its drivers.

Most Uber and Lyft background checks are performed by the same consumer reporting agency (CRA) that performs searches that “rely on public criminal records that have been adjudicated in a court of law rather than unverified sources like Google search results,” representatives from the CRA told CNN.

TNCs such as Uber and Lyft, which allow car owners to share their vehicle and time with others, are examples of the burgeoning “trust economy” – which is also called the “sharing” or “gig” economy – where software applications or “apps” are used to facilitate on-demand services for consumers.

Other “trust economy” examples are Airbnb, where homeowners may share their unused homes, and websites that give access to people who provide their time as caregivers, babysitters, home repair workers, and other services where providers and customers are brought to together by technology.

The trust economy is growing. A study by Intuit estimated that 7.6 million Americans will be working in the trust economy by 2020, more than doubling the 3.2 million in 2015, and the sector grew from 17 percent of the U.S. workforce in 1990, to 36 percent in 2015, and should reach 43 percent by 2020.

However, the basic problem for the trust economy is “trust,” according to background check expert Attorney Lester Rosen, the author of “The Safe Hiring Manual” and the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of leading global background check provider Employment Screening Resources® (ESR).

In his article “Why Consumers Cannot Trust the Trust Economy – The Inherent Conflict of Interest between Gig Economy Firms and their Customers and How to Fix It,” Rosen examined how the improper selection of trust economy workers who have not proven to be safe could pose a risk to consumers.  

Rosen explained that trust economy firms must attract workers as quickly and cheaply as possible since spending time and money to be selective is not in their short term best interest. As a result of this “need for speed,” trust economy firms have an incentive to do the opposite of what consumers would want. 

Consumers concerned for their safety want trust economy firms to be selective, take time to do proper vetting, and spend what is needed to ensure that their workers undergo a rigorous background check, but there is a disincentive to do what is needed to gain trust from consumers their technology serves.   

 “Given the negative fallout from such publicity to any firm in the trust marketplace space, it would seem that an effort to create some standardized and generally accepted background screening protocols would be of great benefit to both providers and consumers,” Rosen wrote in his article.

“The obvious solution is for firms in the trust economy to formulate a nationally accepted standardized approach to due diligence and background checks,” said Rosen, who warned against “creating self-serving industry standards” that are not “enough to assure consumers, the government, or plaintiff’s lawyers.”

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) offers a complimentary white paper entitled “21 Shortcuts & Traps that Can Lead to Inaccurate Criminal Records” on the different ways that a background check program that sounds good can turn out to not perform anywhere close to what is being advertised.

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