Steve Law has been driving for the services in search of extra income and flexible hours. Jeremy B. White The Sacramento Bee
Steve Law has been driving for the services in search of extra income and flexible hours. Jeremy B. White The Sacramento Bee

Viewpoints

Uber ratings are out of control

By Karin Klein

Special to The Bee

January 02, 2018 04:55 AM

“I just found out I am four-star Jac on Uber,” a friend posted on Facebook. “I just assumed I was five-star Jac. I never cancel. I always remove my tea cup. I never talk loudly on the phone. I always say please and thank you. My driver says I may be too cheerful when I get in the car. Sometimes they just like to drive quietly.”

That’s the problem. Let’s just worry ourselves into a tizzy over whether we’re too cheerful, lest we be marked down by the driver we’ve hired.

 
Opinion

This is perfectly reflected in the shining glass of “Black Mirror,” my favorite TV show. The anthology series, a sort of “Twilight Zone” with bite, explores the nexus of technology and society in a world so barely futuristic that it could be next year.

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Or now. In one pastel-hued episode, people rate each other on their smartphones all day long. The latte customer rates her barista, and he rates her back. She rates another jogger on the street and is rated back. She is saccharine in her cheeriness, hoping to drive up her ratings because they affect her ability to get jobs, meet desirable friends and move into posh housing.

It’s hard to tell which came first on ratings run amok, sci-fi or reality. Last year, a company called peeple.com launched an app to allow personal mutual grading. It certainly hasn’t become a household name; I can’t even find a rating for it on Yelp.

And yet here we are, with customers rating their Uber drivers and vice versa. Not that this should strike us as entirely new; eBay ratings have gone both ways for many years. Still, that’s more about straight business dealings: Did the customer pay? Was the trinket from China jade or plastic?

Uber is more personal. A single driver, usually a single passenger, interacting (or not) and judging each other on what it was like to hang out in a small space together. And people actually care about this. Will two-star customers be picked up only by two-star drivers?

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising in a world where commenters on news sites make snap judgments about parents, celebrities and the like – knowing nothing about them except the first three sentences of an under-reported story.

“Black Mirror” has its finger on our pulse; think your friends aren’t toting up how many “likes” their wordless black-and-white photos receive on Facebook? And do you press the like button because you’re hoping the photo of your mom on Mother’s Day will be received with similar approval?

“I was shocked to find I was a 4.2,” another person responded to the Uber thread. “Tipping pushed me to a 4.7. Paying for ratings.”

The original poster was flabbergasted; she had never paid an extra cash tip. “And now look: four stars! Me?? FOUR STARS? You know me! I am not a FOUR STAR Uber rating.”

I’m sure she was joking – to some extent. But she also planned to stop letting her mother ride Uber using her account. She is waaaay too cheerful, she said, which has probably led to lower ratings.

May this new year bring informed opinions on important matters instead of snap judgments on minutiae. May it find you boldly unafraid of being cheerful. And may it bring us a great new season of “Black Mirror.” I hear one episode takes on dating apps. Sounds five-star to me.

Karin Klein is a freelance journalist in Orange County who has covered education, science and food policy. She can be contacted at karinkleinmedia@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @kklein100.