Uber employs hundreds of social and data scientists and some of their jobs is to help the company manipulate its army of contracted drivers through psychological triggers in order to optimize operational and fiscal efficiency, an investigative report from the New York Times has found.
To keep drivers on the road, the company has exploited some people’s tendency to set earnings goals—alerting them that they are ever so close to hitting a precious target when they try to log off. It has even concocted an algorithm similar to a Netflix feature that automatically loads the next program, which many experts believe encourages binge-watching. In Uber’s case, this means sending drivers their next fare opportunity before their current ride is even over.
“We’re talking about this kind of manipulation that literally affects people’s income,” Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington who studies how companies use data to exploit weaknesses, told the Times. Uber is “using what they know about drivers, their control over the interface and the terms of transaction to channel the behavior of the driver in the direction they want it to go.”
Uber admits it even went so far as to create fake female personas to better engage its mostly male workforce of drivers when offering them prompts.
The Times says that many of Uber’s actions come across to drivers as innocuous, but make no mistake: each and every data-backed decision by the ride-hailing giant is “exquisitely calibrated.”