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Uber knows when your battery is dying and could use it against you

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It's 3am on a wet Saturday morning. The bar has closed, none of your mates are offering to put you up on their sofa and the nearest cash machine is empty. A glance at your battery reveals that you've got four per cent of charge in which to find and book an Uber.

Now we don't want to send you into a spiral of mistrust and anger, but it turns out that Uber knows when you're in such a moment of desperation - and they know you're statistically more likely to pay a surge charge when faced with such a predicament.

Head of Uber's economic research division Keith Chen revealed to NPR's Hidden Brain podcast that the Uber app is able to determine if your phone has entered battery saving mode. 

"One of the strongest predictors of whether or not you’re going to be sensitive to surge… is how much battery you have left on your cellphone," said Chen. "When your phone is down to five per cent battery and that little icon on the iPhone turns red, people start saying I’d better get home or I don’t know how I’m going to get home otherwise. 

"We absolutely don’t use that to push you a higher surge price. But it is an interesting psychological fact of human behaviour." 

Although this is a statement so fantastically vague that it could also refer only to the 'surge prices' which would make sense as these costs are based on a supply and demand model. E.g if an area is busier than usual, the prices of a taxi would reflect on a geographical basis. It doesn't necessarily mean Uber aren't putting you at the top of the list. ShortList has reached out to Uber for clarification on exactly why the heck they need to know your battery life.

That said, even if Uber do give you priority in booking a taxi based upon your battery life, that's only a good thing because it saves you walking home. In the cold. Annoyed at yourself for not charging your phone. It's your own fault, they're basically just trying to help. 

Plus, if you did charge your phone you'd have the luxury of using this simple trick to pay a cheaper Uber fare, and you'd be happy.

Perhaps even more interesting though is this little piece of insight into how Uber actually get you to swallow a higher surge price:

"When you tell someone your trip is going to be two times what it would normally be, people think that is capricious and unfair - somebody just made that up," he said. "Whereas if you say your trip is going to be 2.1 times what it normally is they think there is some smart algorithm at work, it doesn’t seem quite so unfair."

Bonkers though it might sound, the stats show that we're more likely to accept a 2.1x surge than a 2.0x surge.

It's as we thought: Uber is our transport overlord and we are powerless to resist them because they're simply too damn clever.

[Via: NPR]

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