When our phones are dying we sometimes do desperate things. And the ride-hailing company Uber knows that. The company recently admitted that riders with a dying battery are willing to pay the most in surge pricing. But they insist they’d never use this knowledge to raise rates on desperate people.
Uber’s app gets access to all kinds of things on your phone. It gets permission to use your camera, your location, your contacts and even your battery life. Why your battery? Uber’s head of economic research, Keith Chen, says it’s so that the app can go into low power mode. But he also casually mentions that people with dying batteries are by far the most willing to pay many times the regular price for a lift.
This nifty aside was explained on the latest episode of NPR’s The Hidden Brain podcast. But Uber would like to emphasise that it would never ever use this knowledge to artificially jack up your rates.
“We absolutely don’t use that to kind of like push you a higher surge price, but it’s an interesting kind of psychological fact of human behaviour,” Chen said.
Interesting, indeed. Uber has gotten heat in the past for its surge pricing during instances of mass panic, like when people were fleeing the Lindt cafe hostage situation in Sydney in 2014. The company later apologised after major backlash.
Chen notes that people are more willing to use Uber when surge pricing is 1.9x and 2.1x but there’s a dramatic decrease in use when it’s at an even 2.0x. As NPR explains, Chen’s job before he came to Uber was doing research at Yale teaching monkeys how to use money. Make what you will of that.
You can listen to the entire podcast below.