You may not have known this, but Uber doesn’t treat its drivers very well. Though the company is currently working to curb this—supposedly—the New York Times recently wrote a lengthy and revealing article on how the company expertly trolls their drivers using psychological tricks and experiments they’ve attained by employing “hundreds” of social and data scientists, all in an effort to entice its work force to work longer hours without necessarily earning more money.
Something to understand before we get started: the company’s main goal is to strike an amicable balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to both passengers and the company. In order to make this happen, some argue that what Uber’s doing is brilliant; others consider it unethical. Though the article is definitely worth a read if you have the time, we’ve narrowed it down to its greatest revelatory specks.
UBER CATFISHES ITS OWN DRIVERS
To combat driver shortages in certain areas, Uber experiments various ways of dispersing its drivers. Some of those experiments have come in the form of incessant texts that would notify drivers of various rushes throughout the day. Uber even went as far as to adopt female personas to increase engagement with its mostly male driver population. Male managers would text drivers acting like a woman, basically, though they don’t mention how exactly they went about this save for using the moniker “Laura” in the Dallas area. As unethical the idea may seem, the strategy proved successful.
UBER USES BADGES AS COMPENSATION
The company determined that collecting badges has become a hit among drivers, so much so it can now use the non-cash rewards as a way to “pay” drivers. Because Uber’s employees are contractors, the sketchy gamification strategies the company often puts in place are not in violation of employment law. Take, for instance, the fact that drivers are encouraged to earn badges for things like “going above and beyond,” “excellent service” and hosting an “entertaining drive.” This strategy, which can be likened to a teacher putting a gold star on a test proved to be successful for some reason. Even when the NYT interviewed one of Uber’s former drivers, he still gushed about the fact that he had 12 badges.
UBER GUILT-TRIPS DRIVERS
When drivers try to log off the app after their shift, they receive a message that, according to scientists, exploits people by encouraging them to drive longer. “Are you sure you want to go offline?” the app asks with two prompts, “Go Offline” and “Keep Driving"—the latter of which is already highlighted. Among behavioral economists, this is known as “income targeting,” wherein workers choose how long they wish to work each day based on a monetary figure. These drivers will have a daily goal in mind, say $100, and work toward meeting that goal each day. To encourage drivers to take on longer shifts, the app shows drivers how many trips they have taken in the current week, how much money they have made, how much time they’ve spent logged on and their overall rating from passengers. All of these metrics can stimulate the competitive juices that drive compulsive “game-playing.”
UBER BORROWS STRATEGIES FROM NETFLIX
Similar to how Netflix automatically sets up another show to foster binge-watching, Uber uses what they call a “forward dispatch” feature, which means before drivers are done with their current ride, the next is set up in order to keep them on the road. Though this strategy does prove beneficial for both parties (there’s no idle waiting time for drivers), at some points it got so bad that Uber’s drivers didn’t have time to go to the bathroom or grab something to eat. Uber has since introduced a “pause” button, something that probably should have been there from the beginning.