Uber is one of the success stories of the digital age; an upstart business that threw taxis into turmoil through the power of the network. But perhaps the revolution handed them too much power.
Ever tried to get a ride home and found the price had gone up 2 to 5 times what it was last time? It turns out Uber are able to use all the data you give them to figure out when you’re ready to pay a higher price. As their head of economic research Keith Chen explains in this NPR interview:
“When you tell someone your trip is going to be two times what it would normally be, people think that is capricious and unfair […] if you say your trip is going to be 2.1 times what it normally is they think there is some smart algorithm at work,”
It turns out Uber can also tell when your battery’s about to die. This is nothing new – apps collect all sorts of data on us, and when we check “Yes” to make that Permissions box go away we rarely think of the consequences.
Chen explains that the app only uses this to determine when to go into Power Save mode, but the information revealed that users are more likely to pay those ridiculous Surge prices when their battery’s about to go out of desperation.
While he insists that in no way does Uber use battery level to set prices, it’s hard to trust that a profit-making company has all this information about when you’ll pay more and are just choosing not to use it.
What would we do to stop them if they did? We’re not angry enough to refuse to pay those Surge prices when it’s raining outside. Uber are dominating the industry and taxi firms have been failing to catch up (fess up, who actually uses Hailo or Get Taxi?).
All we can do is hope that transport’s new king is a just ruler.