Uber is psychologically manipulating their drivers in order to exploit them. I know this because a New York Times article told me so. The article is titled, How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons, and starts, “The secretive ride-hailing giant Uber rarely discusses internal matters in public.”
From this alone, I can deduce that Uber is run by tricksters who are manipulative of their employees and very guarded in their tactics for profit, which makes me assume they are unethical practices.
The New York Times piece does mention that Uber is trying to be more friendly and engaging with its drivers since they have gotten some bad press on that front. But the article goes on to inform me further of the exploitation:
And yet even as Uber talks up its determination to treat drivers more humanely, it is engaged in an extraordinary behind-the-scenes experiment in behavioral science to manipulate them in the service of its corporate growth…
Uber’s innovations reflect the changing ways companies are managing workers amid the rise of the freelance-based “gig economy.” Its drivers are officially independent business owners rather than traditional employees with set schedules. This allows Uber to minimize labor costs, but means it cannot compel drivers to show up at a specific place and time. And this lack of control can wreak havoc on a service whose goal is to seamlessly transport passengers whenever and wherever they want.
Uber helps solve this fundamental problem by using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. It’s a quest for a perfectly efficient system: a balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to passengers and the company.
Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them.
Basically, the article admits that drivers have more freedom and independence, but casts it as a bad thing since they are psychologically manipulated into working harder, or at particular times. But doesn’t that beat being basically literally manipulated into working harder or longer at a typical company?
If you are a corporate worker you are still often “asked” to work longer hours, and still given the type of assignments the corporation wants you to complete. And if you don’t like it, you need to find a different job.
Uber drivers can simply turn off their app and suffer no consequences. Yes, even though a prompt with a big button encouraging them to keep driving shows up, and even though the app tells them how close they are to earning a certain amount of money, the power still rests with the driver.
When it comes to contractors, corporations basically have to tread lightly in order to keep them happier, since they have less control over the workforce.
Uber has to make their work appealing, and using psychological “tricks” is how they are doing it. Why should a company be faulted for being clever in how they attract and encourage employees? Companies have been doing the same in order to attract and engage customers for years.
So it feels like a video game when you are driving for Uber. Great! Because with Uber, you actually make money and with video games, you spend money.
Could it be that many Uber drivers would either be driving for Uber, or at home playing video games? Uber has basically found a way to provide a great fit for gamers to contribute to the economy in a way that doesn’t feel unnatural to them.
Uber is giving an option, not forcing anyone to work for them. But that’s not the way the New York Times spins it.
To keep drivers on the road, the company has exploited some people’s tendency to set earnings goals… 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.
And most of this happens without giving off a whiff of coercion…
But an examination by The New York Times found that Uber is continuing apace in its struggle to wield the upper hand with drivers.
Well, that almost sounds like it is harder for Uber to keep the upper hand than for a typical corporation. It sounds like workers and employers are closer to an even playing field when it comes to negotiation over their mutually beneficial transactions.
But no, I shouldn’t let the corporate giant manipulate me too! Exploiting the tendency to strive towards goals! Providing an interface which makes them want to work longer and earn more money! Adding addictive video game elements which make work feel like leisure! The horror!
Uber exists in a kind of legal and ethical purgatory, however. Because its drivers are independent contractors, they lack most of the protections associated with employment. By mastering their workers’ mental circuitry, Uber and the like may be taking the economy back toward a pre-New Deal era when businesses had enormous power over workers and few checks on their ability to exploit it.
If only our dear leader FDR could have ruled forever. Alas! His dictatorial controls on the economy could not last. Instead, we must live in a world where workers cannot control by threat of government violence what they get from their employers.
Instead, they are forced to work for evil corporations like Uber… Or go drive for a competitor like Lyft… Or work for a gig-based delivery service like Postmates… Or go to an entirely different sector of the economy, which only has hundreds of thousands of businesses to choose to work for… Or start their own business if they feel they have something to offer and don’t want to deal with an employer…
But still, super-exploited.
Mr. Amodeo, the Uber spokesman, defended the practice. “We try to make the early experience as good as possible, but also as realistic as possible,” he said. “We want people to decide for themselves if driving is right for them.”
That making drivers feel good could be compatible with treating them as lab subjects was no surprise. None other than Lyft itself had shown as much several years earlier.
In 2013, the company hired a consulting firm to figure out how to encourage more driving during the platform’s busiest hours.
At the time, Lyft drivers could voluntarily sign up in advance for shifts. The consultants devised an experiment in which the company showed one group of inexperienced drivers how much more they would make by moving from a slow period like Tuesday morning to a busy time like Friday night — about $15 more per hour.
For another group, Lyft reversed the calculation, displaying how much drivers were losing by sticking with Tuesdays.
The latter had a more significant effect on increasing the hours drivers scheduled during busy periods.
So companies are being forced to make their employees feel good about working.
Isn’t psychology the way to voluntarily induce certain behaviors, versus force? Companies need their employees to do certain things to optimize business. Getting the employees to want to comply is a positive approach, especially when the alternative is, “Do this or get fired,” which has basically been the dominant approach of companies for years.
The article says that these tactics have been employed by video games for decades to induce a waste of time, so why is it suddenly horrible to use these tactics to induce productive use of time?
And just to make sure there is no mistake about whose side the New York Times is on, they close with a quote from an Obama official about a contract style, gig-based economy.
“You have all these players entering into this space, and the assumption is they’ll do it through vast armies of underemployed people looking for extra hours, and we can control every nuance about what they do but not have to pay them,” said David Weil, the top wage-and-hour official under President Barack Obama.
Somebody high up doesn’t want the peasants participating in a freelance economy. Yet the government is the one exploiting the masses as tax slaves.
Maybe they have a vested interest in keeping the old employment model, where you are under the control of one company rather than free to take a contract here or there. Maybe the government wants to make sure the corporation is on their side when it comes to health insurance, social security, and tax withholding.
Uber doesn’t withhold taxes from paychecks. That means instead of filing taxes to get money back, when (if?) you file taxes, you owe the government a big chunk of cash. Maybe that isn’t exactly beneficial to the psychological manipulation the government employs to make citizens comply.
And at the end of the day, the government can still use their guns to get your money. Uber needs your consent.
Uber Undermines Regulation
There are certainly unethical practices companies use towards their employees, but I am failing to see what the big deal is with Uber. No one is being forced to drive for them, and this isn’t the industrial revolution where the only option available in your village is to work for a toxic factory or starve.
It really seems like the New York Times has it out for Uber. Their long piece talking about the psychological manipulation Uber uses on their employees is really just psychological propaganda to make readers feel emotional about the situation.
They want people to think that this unregulated company is dangerous. They want people to support more control over the economy by the government, just like the good old days of FDR. They want people to clamor to bring Uber into the fold of government controlled corporations. They want people to want the government to save them from the scary manipulations of big business!
But government’s whole business is manipulation, and the same goes for the media outlets they control.
If you can read deeper, the New York Times’ hit-pieces often give hope for Uber. It is a modern business model which doesn’t need to use force like the government. And they have even implemented programs to undermine government regulation.
A different New York Times piece on Uber is called How Uber Deceives Authorities Worldwide and continues to explain as if it was a bad thing, that Uber uses something called greyballing to deliver a fake version of the app to thwart government stings and protect their drivers from official harassment.
…Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, [code enforcement] officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares.
But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in the app did not represent actual vehicles. And the Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app, populated with ghost cars, to evade capture…
The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, said in a statement, “I am very concerned that Uber may have purposefully worked to thwart the city’s job to protect the public.”
Any company that is getting around government coercion can’t be all bad. The cities are trying to protect the cab companies, wasting tax dollars in the process of chasing people delivering a service clearly in demand from Portland residents.
[It is interesting to note that both New York Times articles start with the word “How,” which is a psychological trick to get more clicks, the idea being that people think they will find more practical knowledge in the articles that start with “How”. But it is okay when the New York Times uses psychology to promote its business, just not when Uber uses it to run its business.]
But anyway, the poor exploited Uber drivers won’t have to labor too long seeing as they will be replaced by driverless cars within about a decade.