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Uber Reads Your Phone Battery To Judge Whether You’re Likely To Pay Surge Prices

The data manipulation runs deep.

It turns out you’re sharing more than just a ride when you hail an Uber.

Uber’s surge prices are a seemingly endless source of controversy. An affordable ride can suddenly become an expensive jaunt if you need to get across town at the wrong time of day or night. But driver advocates also argue that these cost incentives are critical to making the ride share industry a viable career option for the growing roster of individuals making their full-time or part-time income from Uber.

Still, it’s a bit creepy to find out that Uber is actively mining the phone data of users to make predictive models of their purchasing behavior. Keith Chen, the company’s head of economic research, recently told NPR that Uber can actually tell if your smartphone is running low on battery life - and that if you’re low on power - you’re significantly more likely to be willing to pay surge prices.

“When your phone is down to 5 per cent battery and that little icon on the iphone turns red, people start saying I’d better get home or I don’t know how I’m going to get home otherwise,” Chen told NPR. “We absolutely don’t use that to push you a higher surge price, but it is an interesting psychological fact of human behavior.”

Chen shared some other compelling data, including that the company’s marketing research has found that people respond more favorably to price hikes that aren’t round numbers, even if they result in even higher prices. “When you tell someone your trip is going to be two times what it would normally be, people think that is capricious and unfair – somebody just made that up,” Chen said. “Whereas if you say your trip is going to be 2.1 times what it normally is they think there is some smart algorithm at work, it doesn’t seem quite so unfair.” Interestingly, NPR points out that other companies like eBay have found that round numbers actually benefit their sellers but for different reasons.

However, Chen said users shouldn’t be worried about the company misusing their private data, arguing that the company has a “privacy officer” within the company working to ensure such violations don’t take place. But that might be cold comfort to any potential customer knowing that their battery life vulnerability could be powering the next great money making campaign for the already ultra-rich Uber empire.

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