Does Uber charge you more if the battery on your mobile phone is low?
NPR interviewed Keith Chen on its Hidden Brain program, who is head of “economic research” at Uber. He said:
When your phone is down to five percent 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.
Using that info (Uber has access to it because the app needs that information to go into power-save mode), Uber has witnessed battery level is “one of the strongest predictors of whether or not you are going to be sensitive to surge”.
Bolt has already embraced this technology. Indeed, user tests do show that the a nearly-empty battery translates to higher pricing on the same route:
How can this be explained? Same location. Same destination. Same account. Different phones. Different prices. pic.twitter.com/Ys07A4YV89
— KEA (@KEA_HGA) September 17, 2019
Will Uber follow? Chen said:
We absolutely don’t use that to push you a higher surge price. But it is an interesting psychological fact of human behavior.
Uber also told me:
This claim is false as battery life is absolutely not a factor in determining fare. Furthermore, Uber does not use personalized pricing nor is battery life a factor in determining fares. Pricing is optimized for the network as a whole, not any one individual rider or driver. We launched What Moves Us last year to explain our marketplace and share more on how our pricing and matching technology works. You can also see more on how prices are determined here.
Chen offered one other interesting note on surge pricing:
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. 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.
That may not be an admission that Uber engages in predatory pricing for people who neglect to charge their mobile phone. But it is a concession that Uber manipulates pricing in a deliberate way not solely influenced by supply/demand.
Have you experienced higher prices on Uber when your phone is nearly dead?