Convicted Murderer Drives for Uber: Is ‘Misidentification’ Risk Heightened in a World of Platforms and Independent Workers?


While the use of work intermediation platforms (WIPs) and independent workers may be starting to look attractive even to procurement practitioners, there are risks. The most well-known and recently publicized of these is the risk of “misclassification.” However, a lesser-known and potentially greater risk may be “misidentification” risk – being mistaken about who a person actually is and what their real background is.

This risk of misidentification was highlighted in a recent report that an Uber driver in Los Angeles was actually a convicted murderer. In this case, the convict used a fake identity to pass the company’s background check, which in most cases is performed by one of a multitude of third-party providers. However, the failure to validate the identity of the person in the first place reveals the potentially fatal breakdown in the identity verification process.

But this article isn’t about just Uber. Hundreds of such cases for employees and contractors likely occur every year without all the media scrutiny. Still, the number of occurrences could certainly be reduced through better focus, rigor and technology, such as electronic fingerprints.

In this era of increased outsourcing and use of the cloud, these increasingly specialized tests are usually performed through third parties, whose processes also may be flawed or not comprehensive. Additionally, and perhaps most fundamentally, such tests also involve higher costs, not only for the business but also for job candidates, who must go to a specific location to provide fingerprints – an act that may create a privacy risk for the candidate. For a firm like Uber, with a hyper-lean platform business model and massive contingent workforce, such costs and process overheads could have significant impacts on operating margins.

The truth is that misidentification risk is real for any business, and it may be underestimated in terms of potential liability and the complexity of mitigating it.

Another question also arises: Is misidentification risk heightened in a world of platforms and independent workers? Platforms may heighten the risk because they often engage independent workers at arms-length, often from the “crowd” rather than pre-vetted labor pools. These highly efficient business models may discourage adequate identification processes. Independent workers by definition move in and out of engagements quickly and are often onboarded rapidly, such that the potential for inadequate identification testing may be increased. And even if the platform-intermediated work today is performed remotely, sporadic “onsite” and “customer facing” platform intermediated work arrangements might still occur. Besides, the threat to employee/customer safety is only one risk. IP theft, physical theft and substance abuse are just a few examples of a slew of other potential risks.

There are some critical implications for services/contingent workforce procurement practitioners:

  • As more independent workers are engaged as a part of a company’s contingent workforce – and more often through WIPs– managing and mitigating misidentification risk will increasingly be in the hands of procurement practitioners.
  • Procurement practitioners will not have risk management and mitigation practices to rely on, because there are basically none today for misidentification risk and the engagement of independent workers. All of this, including WIPs, is new territory for procurement practitioners
  • Procurement practitioners will therefore have to learn much more about misidentification risk and how to manage and mitigate this, including learning much more about third-party suppliers of identity verification and background checks
  • Procurement’s sourcing and engagement of independent workers will increasingly need to incorporate processes for managing and mitigating misidentification risk.

As we move into a contingent workforce world of platforms that create both efficiency and identification distance and independent workers that move from gig to gig, procurement practitioners will face and need to meet new challenges related misidentification. Though such cases may seem extreme, no one wants murderers, thieves or other unsavory characters on the premises and mixing with the workforce.

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