April 3, 2017

"Just How Creepy Are Uber’s Driver-Nudges?"

Asks New York Magazine's Jesse Singal, who's reading a NYT article that nudges you to think that Uber's nudges are creepy.
The company is trying to solve basic problems baked into its business model: From Uber’s point of view, it’s great to have tons of drivers on the road, because that means customers don’t have to wait as long to get picked up. But from drivers’ points of view, having fewer fellow drivers on the road is best, because it means less time idling and earning no money (since drivers get paid only per ride, not on an hourly basis).

So Uber has introduced all sorts of nudge-y tricks to try to keep drivers driving. Some involve gamification — drivers can earn certain (meaningless) badges if they meet certain performance benchmarks — while others involve subtler forms of engineering, like building menus and interfaces in a way where certain options are easier to click. Drivers, Scheiber’s reporting reveals, often feel they’re being nudged into working more than they want to for less than they feel they should be earning.
Singal wonders whether what Uber is doing is anything different from the usual maximizing of profit within the current "American framework in which workers are increasingly alone, batted around by epochal forces, simply trying to get by." So I guess the question is comparative creepiness. Or... if something is common enough, is it just not creepy anymore?

I see I have a tag for creepiness. What is creepiness and why should we care about creepiness as opposed to simply whether something is good or bad? I found 2 useful things:

1. "The Age of Creepiness" (The New Yorker, July 9, 2015):
Half a century ago, there were squares and libertines, stalwarts and histrionics, private lives and public personalities. Today, in our self-scrutinizing, liberated time, these categories have got scrambled, and distinguishing between a charmingly revealing Instagram post and a bomb of oversharing requires daunting feats of judgment. Looming behind many missteps is the threat of creepiness: a fear that, out of all the free paths open to the modern social actor, you have picked the one that is invasive, obviously needy, and perverse.
2. "On the Science of Creepiness/A look at what’s really going on when we get the creeps" (The Smithsonian, October 29, 2015):
Being creeped out is different from fear or revulsion, [says a psychology professor]; in both of those emotional states, the person experiencing them usually feels no confusion about how to respond. But when you’re creeped out, your brain and your body are telling you that something is not quite right and you’d better pay attention because it might hurt you....

[T]here’s an evolutionary advantage to feeling creeped out, one that’s in line with the evolutionary psychology theory of “agency detection”. The idea is that humans are inclined to construe willful agency behind circumstances, seek out patterns in events and visual stimuli, a phenomenon called pareidolia. This is why we see faces in toast, hear words in static or believe that things “happen for a reason.”...

27 comments:

rehajm said...

The Sunstein Nudge is creepy when it originates from enterprise. When is originates from government it's benevolent and for your own good, after all.

David said...

"American framework in which workers are increasingly alone, batted around by epochal forces, simply trying to get by."

This describes the situation on most workers from the time that work began. The relative security of the Post WW II era in the United States, which we still find distressingly uncertain, is a huge outlier. It is another of the great benefits of being an American in this time and place. Economic uncertainty is a constant. Americans have less of it than most. We run a constant risk of increasing that uncertainty as a consequence of misguided attempts to alleviate it.

3rdGradePB_GoodPerson said...

The Times has been hammering Uber.

In a month, or so: exec trouble, crashes, mean to staff, mean to drivers, deceiving govs.

At least they're off of jabbering about Amazon making staff cry.

3rdGradePB_GoodPerson said...

I forgot, racist/sexist hiring, too.


Inga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laslo Spatula said...

Nudge a woman in the buttocks on the bus and now you're a creep.

I am Laslo.

3rdGradePB_GoodPerson said...

And, they thwarted the pussy travel ban thing-y.

3rdGradePB_GoodPerson said...

At the airports, that is.

Fernandinande said...

This is why we see faces in toast,

In Trump's America, we see toast on faces.

Brando said...

Still comes down to the same thing--everything about Uber is entirely voluntary, from the drivers' and customers' standpoint. If either group is getting a lousy deal, and there's a way to successfully offer a better deal, the critics are welcome to jump into the market.

The only people with a reasonable gripe are cab drivers who pass all sorts of licensing and spend all sorts of money to get their medallions and lose business this way. But then their gripe is with the local government monopoly, not the new businesses that spring up.

Inga said...

2. "On the Science of Creepiness/A look at what’s really going on when we get the creeps" (The Smithsonian, October 29, 2015):
Being creeped out is different from fear or revulsion, [says a psychology professor]; in both of those emotional states, the person experiencing them usually feels no confusion about how to respond. But when you’re creeped out, your brain and your body are telling you that something is not quite right and you’d better pay attention because it might hurt you....
--------------------------

Yes indeed.

Tom said...

This sort of marketing psychology is annoying when it's used to get me to look at clickbait. In the workplace, it's bound to fail because the workers (in this case, drivers) will figure out they're being dishonestly manipulated. The usual response to manipulation of workers is coniving behaviors. I expect Uber will get a lot of coniving behavior going forward.

I do Organizational Development for a living and if I can give one piece of advice - trust is critical to any organization and it takes very little effort to destroy trust. So, treat people right and do the right thing. Uber, if you don't trust your drivers, why should we?

traditionalguy said...

Epochal forces are back again. It's time to re-watch Empire of the Sun. Spielberg does a good job showing survival skills required in the strange days between Empire 1's social order removal by Empire 2, followed by Empire 2's social order removal by Empire 3.

I blame Trump for making Empire 3 great Again. Empire 4 is angry.

And Christian Bale plays the role to perfection.

Wilbur said...

I learned what creepy was when Beaver and Larry repeatedly referred to "That creepy Judy Hensler".

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Suddenly nudging is wrong, when it's not nudging done by the State. Funny.

Rick said...

“We’re talking about this kind of manipulation that literally affects people’s income,” said Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington

Does New York Magazine think NGO / non-profit emphasis of their do-gooderism which convinces their employees to accept lower salaries is concerning? If not how is their practice different than what is highlighted here:

“It’s getting you to internalize the company’s goals,” said Chelsea Howe, a prominent video game designer who has spoken out against coercive psychological techniques deployed in games. “Internalized motivation is the most powerful kind.”

Scheiber and Singal are absurdly treating common interactions - seriously, employee awards are manipulative and coercive - as unfair manipulations. Would they consider universities offering adjuncts or charities offering employees awards similarly unfair?

These guys are trying to make something out of nothing because their worldview requires something to exist. All they've proven is that if they look hard enough at something they can convince themselves they see it.

Tinderbox said...

There is "scope-creep", which I think is what is meant in the context of Uber.
Then there is sexual "creepiness" as increasingly used by feminists to describe male attention, particularly by older males for younger women. Younger women use it to weed out men they're not interested in, older women use it to redirect older male attention onto older women.

David said...

"It's time to re-watch Empire of the Sun."

Always time for that.

My POW father in law actually saw the Hiroshima A bomb from his prison camp. It saved his life, after over 3 years as a Japanese prisoner. Nobody ever needed to explain to him that life could take bad turns.

Yancey Ward said...

At the bottom of Uber's business model is this literally undeniable fact- the drivers and the customers are all voluntary participants.

One of the most amazing things I have witnessed in the last 5 years is the slavish devotion that progressives have given to the old-line cab companies. You can't make this shit up.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Singal wonders whether what Uber is doing is anything different from the usual maximizing of profit within the current "American framework in which workers are increasingly alone, batted around by epochal forces, simply trying to get by."

If you want socialism, create an culture where workers feel that they are at the mercy of nameless, faceless economic forces beyond their control.

PB said...

Calling it "ride-sharing" is almost so misleading as to be criminal. It would only be ride-sharing if only the people who offered rides could ride. What it really is is a gypsy cab enterprise.

They call their driver-partners independent contractors, but independent contractors at least have some pricing power. Currently drivers are at the mercy the pricing battle between Uber and it's competitors.

The value of the human labor in driving will approach zero as robot-driven cars take the road at scale. Not that this is a bad thing. Think of the utilization of that wasting asset known as a car sitting in your driveway. A whole lot fewer cars would be needed if they were available to serve all people and the cost to use a robot car would be about what you pay to day to own and use your own vehicle. There's a good argument the cost will be even lower, given more efficient maintenance, optimized fuel purchasing, and lower insurance as accidents and fatalities rapidly approach zero.

Rick said...

PB said...
What it really is is a gypsy cab enterprise.


Uber is a black car service, the distinction being that black cars must be contacted and requested by the customer and cabs can pick up people on the street with no prior contact.

Lewis Wetzel said...

The value of the human labor in driving will approach zero as robot-driven cars take the road at scale.
Uber is gambling on this. They can't make a profit, long term, with human drivers.
But point-to-point arbitrary pick up and drop off of human passengers, in individual vehicles, in urban environments is the most difficult part of driving to automate.

jimbino said...

As bad as Uber is, to me it seems to beat the usual employee deal, where you pay for other people's sick leaves, child care, perinatal care, family health insurance, and so on and on.

Give me any day a contract job where pay for performance reigns supreme. That's the way I've been arranging my contract programming jobs for years.

tim in vermont said...

I guess Uber drivers want medallions now.

tim in vermont said...

The drivers could always do those other things with their time that is worth more.

Jamie said...

I heard a podcast - was it Planet Money or Freakonomics? I can't recall - about a little office in the Executive branch that was dedicated to "nudging" people's behavior. Creeped me out then and now.

I once knew someone, for many years, who was (in my considered opinion) improperly tarred with the brush of creepiness. S/he was a close talker, a maker of awkward jokes, and a social toucher without regard to the circumstances, and people would get creeped out. I felt for him/her, but, because you do HAVE to listen to the creep-awareness, I couldn't second-guess the administrative decisions that kept him/her away from kids.