How Uber drivers secretly push up their prices – research

Uber drivers are tricking the app’s algorithms to drive up prices and make passengers pay more than intended, research has revealed.

This includes cancelling fares they no longer wish to take and avoiding the unpopular UberPOOL programme which requires drivers to take multiple passengers who are heading in the same direction.

The collaborative report by UK based Warwick Business School (WSB) and New York University (NYU) also revealed that drivers arrange mass ‘switch-offs’ so that the lack of drivers in a certain area causes pricing to surge.

The high demand of customers but little supply of drivers also reportedly gives drivers a higher percentage of the trip fee.

“Uber uses software algorithms for oversight, governance and to control drivers, who are tracked and their performance constantly evaluated,” said WSB’s Mareike Möhlmann, co-author of the report.

“In response, drivers have developed practices to regain control, even gaming the system. It shows that ‘algorithmic management’ that Uber uses may not only be ethically questionable but may also hurt the company itself.”

The report noted that Uber drivers are under constant surveillance through their phones and customer reviews, with drivers’ behaviour ranked automatically and any anomalies reported for further review.

Drivers are also issued automatic bans for not obeying orders or low grades and receive different commission rates and bonus targets, being left in the dark as to how it is all calculated.

“This is driving tensions between drivers’ need for autonomy and a platform programmed to be always in control,” said WSB’s Ola Henfridsson.

“Uber’s algorithmic management system may even be counterproductive as drivers try to break free of it. So they fight back and have found ways to use the system to their advantage,” Henfridsson said.

The researchers interviewed drivers in New York and London and analysed 1,012 blogs on the platform and found a mass deactivation organised.

On the platform Driver A said: “Guys stay logged off until surge.”

Driver B said: “Uber will find out if people are manipulating the system.”

Driver A added: “They already know cos it happens every week. Deactivation en masse coming soon. Watch this space.”

“This behaviour is neither widespread nor permissible on the Uber app, and we have a number of technical safeguards in place to prevent it from happening,” an Uber spokesperson said to BusinessTech.

Read: Uber hires armed response group to protect drivers in high-risk areas: report

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How Uber drivers secretly push up their prices – research