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When Your Boss Is an Algorithm


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When Your Boss Is an Algorithm
For Uber drivers, the workplace can feel like a world of constant surveillance, automated manipulation and threats of “deactivation.”

By Alex Rosenblat

Ms. Rosenblat is the author of the forthcoming book “Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work.”

There are nearly a million active Uber drivers in the United States and Canada, and none of them have human supervisors. It’s better than having a real boss, one driver in the Boston area told me. “Except when something goes wrong.”

When something does go wrong, Uber drivers can’t tell the boss or a co-worker. They can call or write to “community support,” but the results can be enraging. Cecily McCall, an African-American driver from Pompano Beach, Fla., told me that a passenger once called her “dumb” and “stupid,” using a racial epithet, so she ended the trip early. She wrote to a support rep to explain why and got what seemed like a robotic response: “We’re sorry to hear about this. We appreciate you taking the time to contact us and share details.”

The rep offered not to match her with that same passenger again. Disgusted, Ms. McCall wrote back, “So that means the next person that picks him up he will do the same while the driver gets deactivated” — fired by the algorithm — because of a low rating or complaint from an angry passenger. “Welcome to America.”

Over the past four years, I have traveled more than 5,000 miles in more than 25 cities, interviewing 125 drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps, as well as taxi drivers, and observing hundreds more. And I have spent countless hours in Facebook groups and other online forums for drivers, which collectively have 300,000 members, to better understand their experiences. I have learned that drivers at ride-hailing companies may have the freedom and flexibility of gig economy work, but they are still at the mercy of a boss — an algorithmic boss.

Data and algorithms are presented as objective, neutral, even benevolent: Algorithms gave us super-convenient food delivery services and personalized movie recommendations. But Uber and other ride-hailing apps have taken the way Silicon Valley uses algorithms and applied it to work, and that’s not always a good thing.

The algorithmic manager seems to watch everything you do. Ride-hailing platforms track a variety of personalized statistics, including ride acceptance rates, cancellation rates, hours spent logged in to the app and trips completed. And they display selected statistics to individual drivers as motivating tools, like “You’re in the top 10 percent of partners!”


Mista T

Well-Known Member
Like most articles, it is over simplified and barely scratches the surface of the issue.


Well-Known Member
Article is an insult to the Algo. I dont even know where to start.
Ditto. The engineers at Uber have that damn thing fine tuned. The games that Rohit.AI plays are on another level.

Is it surging in a busy area? feed them base rate stacked pings...
Hell, just send base rate pings out even though it's been surging for the last 20 minutes. {suckers born every day && drive for uber}
Don't even want to start with the ratings games.
The algo knows it's going to be busy so shorties for you. Can't have you taking a 3.5X ride 40 minutes away.
XL, Select, SUV that step down to X i.e. during those 3.5X surges get all the premium long distance X rides.

I'm almost damn sure that it also matches a certain way to keep sexual harassment claims to a minimum. Like, it's weird how on weekend nights, 90% of my pax are women & 50% ride solo. This upsets me cause these girls live down the street {min fare} from the bar. Those dudes/couple/etc otoh came in from 20 miles away.

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