Uber is introducing new features intended to address unfair opt-outs that rideshare and delivery drivers often face.
Starting Monday in the United States, Uber will roll out technology that identifies riders or Uber Eats customers who consistently give poor ratings or reviews with the intent of getting a refund. These customers’ allegations, the company said in a blog post, will not be considered in driver ratings or deactivation decisions.
The ride-hailing giant is also expanding its in-app review center to provide drivers and couriers more information about why their account was deactivated, allow them to request a review of the decision and share any additional information such as audio or video recordings.
Uber deployed an audio recording function for drivers and riders nationwide last year. The company also launched driving video recording and announced Monday that it would expand the pilot project to iOS drivers in a dozen U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis and some drivers in Los Angeles.
Uber will also trial voluntary drug testing so that drivers accused of driving under the influence of a drug or having a car that smells of marijuana (in a state where it’s legal) can challenge those claims.
Drivers have long protested unfair opt-outs, which amount to being fired in the app-based gig economy, and many have joined class-action lawsuits against the company. Drivers complained that some passengers were submitting false complaints out of malice or bias. They also said they lacked transparency in knowing the nature of these complaints in order to dispute them, and that Uber offered little to no recourse to dispute the claims.
Two drivers who spoke to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity said they received no warning that they were going to be deactivated. One day, they tried to open the app and had access removed.
A report from February from the Asian Law Caucus found that 30% of deactivated drivers said they were given no explanation as to why they were deactivated. Among the drivers who were for a reason, 42% said they were deactivated due to a customer complaint. Another 10% said they were deactivated due to low customer reviews.
The report also found that nearly half of all deactivated drivers believed customer discrimination led to their deactivation: Drivers of color and drivers who did not speak English well were more likely to experience temporary or permanent deactivation.
Because Uber drivers are not considered employees, when they are deactivated, they are not automatically eligible for unemployment and often find themselves suddenly without income. Of those surveyed in the report, 81% said driving on Uber and Lyft platforms was their primary source of income. Nearly a fifth of those who were deactivated lost their car and 12% lost their home after being kicked off the app.
Proving the validity of customer complaints – and whether they are fueled by bias or simply a capricious desire to please themselves – is a difficult problem to solve. Historically, Uber has not shared the exact complaint or the time and date of the complaint with drivers. A spokesperson told TechCrunch that this is for safety reasons, so a rejected driver doesn’t decide to take revenge on a customer who gave them a bad rating.
Uber did not say whether the new in-app assessment center would now provide such details to drivers.
The company said its model for detecting false complaints, or “support abuse,” looks for (1) scandalous or exaggerated reports that do not follow a logical sequence of events; (2) apparent motivation to receive funds or credits; and (3) multiple reports, including similar or textual language.
Rider verification and other updates for riders
Uber also said that in 2025, the company will expand passenger identity verification. Passengers will be identified based on simple third-party verifications, for example if your name matches that of the credit card on file. If Uber can’t verify a rider’s identity this way, it will ask for ID, but this won’t be the norm. Uber will not share further information about this, such as whether Uber will automatically verify riders or whether riders will be required to register.
Uber is also integrating Android Auto with the Uber Driver app, allowing Android drivers to now view heat maps, accept rides, and use on-screen navigation from their car’s dashboard. The integration takes place several months later Uber launched something similar with Apple CarPlay in February.
Finally, Uber added a tool in the app to help couriers find nearby parking. The company said it would also add map labels specifying the exact drop-off doors or photos of the building to make it clearer for couriers to know where a customer has requested food to be dropped off.