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Uber Secretly Using Data to Upcharge Certain Riders

More than five years ago when Uber blogged about identifying passengers who’d had one-night stands, it seemed like some immature data scientist’s pet project.

When an Uber researcher blurted out it found passengers with dying batteries would pay more? Same, sort of.

But now that Uber acknowledges it’s been secretly upcharging customers what its data science indicates they’re willing to pay, these quirky forerunner stories take on new meaning.

These were early signs of Uber’s committed, ongoing effort to monetize passenger info. Monetize it for Uber’s avaricious benefit, not some hapless online marketer downstream.

Uber is leveraging its access to passenger data to figure out which passengers might pay more. More precisely, Uber has been (secretly) upcharging riders who consistently use Uber for certain routes.

This is the same Uber app that some tech writers have called dangerously close to malware. Uber has been doing this to its customers in 14 major U.S. cities for an undisclosed period of time.

These guys view this manipulation as just the beginning. Ryan Cato and Alan Rosenblat, a legal scholar and technology ethnographer, respectively, of the Data & Society Research Institute, warn Uber may use its vast amount of consumer data to act in a predatory manner.

Their report says Uber is particularly well poised to act in a predatory manner. When a corporation can design an environment (app) from scratch, track consumer behavior in that environment, and change the conditions throughout the environment based on what the corporation observes, “the possibilities to manipulate are legion.” “Companies can reach consumers at their most vulnerable, nudge them into overconsumption, and charge each consumer the most he or she may be willing to pay,” they write.

If you know Uber—like we know Uber—it’s just a matter of time before it begins individually price-gouging people.

That is, if they’re not doing it already.

Here are examples of how Uber could individually price-gouge:

  • airport passengers late at night,
  • passengers using corporate credit cards,
  • passengers out late who’ve likely been drinking,
  • passengers traveling in weather emergencies,
  • less-privileged riders with fewer transportation options,
  • sick people traveling to hospitals or medical facilities,
  • individuals with disabilities who require assistance.

 

The opportunities are legion.

The taxicab meter has been in existence—in one form or another—for ages. The need for fair fares is as old as mankind itself. A government-inspected taxicab meter, generating fares based on time and distance, provides transparency and fairness. Without such transparency, people can and will get ripped off by greedy operators.

Maybe, since Uber passengers agree to the price up front, you don’t see this manipulation as a rip-off. This attitude overlooks how maniacal and extreme Uber is.

To this point, this astute writer warns readers/passengers: “This is a terrible company, and if you think that once Uber has undercut taxis and found a way to screw over public transit it won’t treat you like it currently treats its drivers…think again. Think hard.”

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