Uber Drivers Gaming the Algorithm
Written by Lucy Black   
Wednesday, 02 August 2017

As well as finding "management by algorithm" objectionable, Uber drivers are finding ways of exploiting the algorithms in their own favor. In particular they organize mass ‘switch-offs’  to cause price surges 

The research conducted by Mareike Möhlmann and Ola Henfridsson, of Warwick Business School, and Lior Zalmanson, of New York University, was presented at the 4th International Workshop of the Sharing Economy held in Lund Sweden in June in the paper "How Uber drivers regain control in the age of algorithmic management".

The study was based on interviews of Uber drivers in London and New York and an analysis of over 1000 posts on UberPeople.net, a site which "is in no way affiliated with Uber" and is used as a forum by its drivers to swap experiences and advice.




The researchers revealed how the platform was being used for mass deactivation which would effectively trick the algorithms.

The following exchange is cited as an example from London:

Driver X: “Guys, stay logged off until surge.”

Driver Y: “Why?”

Driver X: “Less supply high demand = surge”

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

Driver X: “They already know cos it happens every week.”

Dr Moehlmann commented:

“Uber uses software algorithms for oversight, governance and to control drivers, who are tracked and their performance constantly evaluated. 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 consensus from the researchers is that it is Uber's style of management that motivates its drivers into this behavior. According to Dr. Zalmanson:

“The drivers have the feeling of working for a system rather than a company, and have little, if any interaction with an actual Uber employee. This creates tension and resentment, especially when drivers can only email to resolve problems. Uber’s strategy is not at all transparent, drivers do not know how decisions are made or even how jobs are allocated and this creates negative feelings towards the company. So they fight back and have found ways to use the system to their advantage.” 





More Information

Uber Drivers Forum

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 02 August 2017 )