The Customer Isn't Always Right

Friday, April 25, 2014


Users of the app-based car service Uber probably already know that passengers get to rate their drivers after a trip. But they might be surprised to discover that the drivers are rating passengers too. Manoush speaks with Uber driver Ganu Salami about the passenger rating system, and with University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong about its potential to be discriminatory.


Nancy Leong and Ganu Salami

Hosted by:

Manoush Zomorodi

Comments [6]

Allen Welty-Green from Atlanta

I drive for Lyft and Uber (BTW - I as a driver, I prefer Lyft). I like being able to rate the passenger - mainly because if I give a passenger a rating of 3-stars or less, they'll never be able to request a ride with ME again. And vice versa. Frankly, there are a few people I simply never want to sit in MY car again - nothing to do with race, age, etc. It has to do with their attitude. Everyone who rides with me gets 5 stars unless they are an obnoxious drunk or try and jerk me around. I can see the potential for discrimination, but in my city (Atlanta), the demographic and ethnic mix of drivers is quite diverse so I don't think it would really be much of a factor.

Apr. 28 2014 01:31 PM
Regine from San Francisco Bay Area

Barriers to entry for Uber drivers are quite low (unlike medallion taxis) so if there is a perceived bias against minority passengers, won't it will create opportunities for minority drivers? I could argue that the ratings--particularly of potentially scary or violent male passengers--would make it easier for women to work as drivers, too. Isn't more information better than less, on both sides of the 'contract?'

Apr. 27 2014 10:36 PM
luke202 from Oakland, Ca

Thanks for the story on the ranking system within Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, etc. I wished the host had asked the Uber driver what happens to him if he goes below a 4.67 as a driver for that service. When a driver goes below 4.67, they are given a warning to bring the score up, if nothing changes then the partnership with uber is dissolved immediately. My 2 cents.

Apr. 27 2014 02:19 AM

Unlike Chuck808, I didn't read the story as claiming to identify evidence that the uber ratings have been used to discriminate against minorities. Instead, it pointed out that this type of anonymous, open-ended rating system lends itself to people expressing bias, both conscious and unconscious. Study after study reveals that Americans experience substantial degrees of unconscious bias against people of color: people with traditionally black names get fewer job interviews even with identical resumes; people with darker skin color get longer jail sentences even having committed identical crimes; people of color are judged to be worse writers even when producing identical written product. It seems likely that a rating system like Uber's would produce similar results (and it surely "has the potential" to do so). What's to be done is a different question, and one for which I don't have an answer. I know psychologists and others have been trying to come up with ways to reduce the effect of implicit bias and if there are strategies that could be employed in this setting, that would seem like a good idea. If there aren't such mechanisms, we may be left with the reality that aggregate ratings, even if likely skewed against people of color, do a better job leveling the playing field than having cab drivers select customers visually.

Apr. 26 2014 11:27 AM
LAD 13 from Brooklyn

Anyone who harkens back to the saying "The customer is always right" needs to do a little self-introspection. I tend to think the knowledge of that adage was a major clue to the source of Manoush's negative reviews. It implies a a mentality of justified inequality - that some are above the rules and some are beneath the rules. The ones with the money are above the rules.
I guess that is probably another saying, or rather an unsaid saying better left unsaid.
Although Manoush seems very ordered in her thought processes and opinions, I don't think she consciously justifies inequality, but there could be some subconscious psychology at work.

Apr. 26 2014 09:29 AM

Nothing in the piece (especially not Nancy Leong's suppositions) substantiates that Uber's customer rating system has ever been or has the potential to be racially discriminatory any more than services that do not rate customers. It seems the app allows for discrimination against rushed, aggressive and/or violent passengers and, yes, Manoush, against passengers who can't correctly articulate their desired destination, but our credit scores, SAT scores and criminal records are also used to discriminate towards one ideal or another. The one minority passenger mentioned in the story is quoted as saying that Uber made her feel racially neutral finding the service a benefit. Such a fallacy of presumption is unexpected on OTM. Ironically, it's exactly the kind of story one can usually count on OTM to point out as media gone wrong. (No surprise to hear at the end of the on-air story that the show was NOT edited by Brooke. Perhaps it should have been.)

Apr. 26 2014 01:12 AM

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