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Carroll School of Management


Travis Kalanick

Co-Founder and CEO, Uber Technologies

Excerpt from remarks to Boston College’s Chief Executives Club  

December 1, 2015

TAKEAWAY: Fingerprinting

Audience Member:
I appreciated what you were saying earlier about overcoming challenges and how important that is, to do so, and among the challenges I imagine that you consider is how to ensure safety for passengers, and clearly that’s been a big issue around this country.

In terms of background checks, fingerprinting, Uber seems a little bit in flux in terms of where you are on those kinds of questions. Could you address those?

Yeah, of course. So if you’re going to build a transportation platform in a city, safety has to be a critical part of that. At the highest level, we like to say that our aspiration is for Uber to be the safest place in the city.

Can we get Uber so safe that it’s safer than anywhere else in the city? And that’s the aspiration.

Now, you go and then get into the details. There is the experience that, of course, starts with background checks. We feel like our background checks at this point are not in flux. I know there’s a lot of chatter and there’s media around it. But we feel very good about where our background checks are, and feel that they’re more robust than most anything that’s going on out there.

Fingerprints are a particularly interesting part of that discussion. There is a database, a system called Live Scan, which can, it’s like an FBI database that goes in. You do a fingerprint, and it can then check and see, well, have you been arrested for a particular crime?

The issue, of course, with a system like that, well, of course there’s errors with fingerprints all over the place, but the other side of that is, in many states, the vast majority of the files they have, only have the arrest record. They don’t have conviction. So if you’ve been arrested, you then can’t work. And we find that to be particularly discriminatory.

And so the question is, Can you find ways to make sure that folks coming in are safe to the best of your ability without discriminating against people, given all the things we see in the country today with how they get arrested and whatnot?

And so there’s a balance there. No system is going to be perfect, but can you create a filter up front? But then remember, we’re tracking that ride via GPS. We know everywhere that driver went. We know everywhere the rider went.

We have star ratings afterwards where, if there’s an issue with that driver—maybe the driver’s irritable or maybe the rider yelled a racial epithet, for instance, which can happen—what are the things that can lead to safety or, sorry, lead to unsafe situations, and can you get in front of them, given the information that we have?

And so we’re using a technology platform to do far more than, well, what happens when you get in a taxi, you know? There’s just, the technology is not there to make it as safe as possible, and certainly not there to make it safe for every day. And so that’s how we think about it.