Uber ratings are a weird concept. You spend a short period of time with someone who is whisking you around the city. You might have a chat with them, or maybe you prefer to have a quiet ride. Sometimes they’ll even offer you treats, or refreshments if you’re lucky! Then, in the end, you judge each other based on a 5-star rating. No pressure. Your Uber rating is intended to give drivers some vague insight into the person they’ll be picking up, but it also has some advantages as well.
Uber has a program called Uber Star. It might not be available everywhere, but it is where I am. This is a program where if you take at least 10 rides every month, and maintain a high uber rating (4.8 or higher) you’ll have access to Uber Star cars. They’re the same as the regular economy option, but the difference being only drivers with a rating of 4.8 or higher will be able to see your ride request. The best for the best!
Uber Star drivers are more likely to have comforts like free wifi, candy, or bottled water. Why should I settle for less? I mean, I am an Uber Star, after all.
I’ve had a fairly good Uber rating. Hovering around 4.85. Not the best, but it qualified me for the program each month. But I noticed I had a period where it started to slip. I saw it went down to 4.84 one day. I didn’t worry. I’m still well within range. Then it hit 4.83, and panic set in.
What is going on? How did I start falling so far? I couldn’t pinpoint it. I couldn’t think of any behaviors that changed to warrant such a dramatic decline putting my Uber Star status at risk. It was time to do something, and I set out to hack my Uber rating.
First I thought maybe I could hack Uber’s servers. I would manually change the ratings that drivers gave to me, so they would all say five stars. My Uber Star status would be safe from the whims of drivers judgments upon me. I could continue to enjoy my candies and water with peace of mind. Then, I realized that’s probably really difficult, a lot of work, and fairly illegal. I had to think of a different vector for this attack
Social Engineering is by far the most common form of a security threat for companies. If that’s what many professional hackers are using, why wouldn’t it work here? I figured my best bet was to hack the drivers instead.
The key to success here is that after the ride is finished the driver will select 5-stars when they are given the choice to rate me. This relies on their memory of the trip which just occurred. That’s the key bit here. It doesn’t matter what actually happened on the trip. Only what they remember in the moment of judgment. Their memory is what I need to exploit.
Memory in people isn’t a very straightforward subject. How we perceive events of the past can become distorted in many different ways. There are [various well-studied memory biases[(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_memory_biases) that illustrate how your memory of an event can be quite subjective. Memory biases are not the only ones that could impact how the driver chooses to rate me, whether they’re conscious of them or not.
Bias against race, religions, genders, or other elements of our identity are very common. Since I have no control over those biases I excluded them as a concern in my approach here. If a driver gives me a poor rating because they don’t like my face there’s not much I can do about that. Instead, I chose to focus on the elements that I could control.
Another bias that people may succumb to is the negativity bias. Essentially, negative events have a larger impact on one’s psychological state than positive ones of equal intensity. Let’s use receiving or losing an ice cream as an example. If I give you ice cream it might make you a bit happier, but if you drop that ice cream you’ll feel way worse than any happiness generated by receiving it. The loss has far more impact on you than the gain.
I still have a memory of when I was around six years old at the zoo. We stopped on a footbridge to admire some birds swimming around below us. My ice cream slipped and fell into the water where all the animals made a dash to devour it in front of me. I cried. A lot. I don’t remember anything else about that trip. I’ve been given countless ice creams since then, and I couldn’t recall a single one of them. Negative events tend to leave a deeper lasting impact than good ones.
By understanding various biases of memory and mood I believed I could use those factors to influence the driver’s decision. I broke down the various elements of a trip to then think about the most effective actions for each portion in maximizing a potential 5-star rating. These are the elements of a trip I felt could have an impact on their final decision.
- the waiting
- the greeting
- the ride
- the farewell
The waiting. Few people like to wait. Especially when waiting costs you money. Uber drivers are providing their time as a service, and the more people they can serve within a given period of time the more money they make. If you make them wait you’re costing them money and they might carry a negative view of you through the entire trip. Regardless of how nice you seem. I made sure to avoid this. I was ready to flag down the driver and hop in immediately every single trip. This was the easy part.
The next two can be grouped together under some basic ideas we learned from the various stated biases. Some people might think it’s a good idea to be friendly to the driver by being very communicative. But given how conversations can take weird turns, or you can say something that the other party dislikes without realizing it, the best strategy is to talk as little as possible. Reducing the potential for negative interactions can far outweigh the benefit of many positive interactions. One negative interaction can outweigh any earned goodwill, and you may not even realize what you’ve done.
My greetings from the point of starting this practice were always polite and brief. I verified my name with the driver, gave a friendly hello, and then shut up. During the ride itself, I would not engage the drivers in conversation. I’m not the most talkative person, to begin with, but I would get into fairly detailed discussions with drivers regularly. Though now if they engaged with me I would kindly answer questions directly without much of a follow-up. If they made some comment with the expectation of a response I would provide some neutral response affirming I recognized whatever observation they had made. It was important to find a soft balance between brief and curt. The idea is to come across like a vanilla passenger. Boring, uninteresting, and not worth engaging or casting any judgment upon - yet. By limiting these interactions I reduced the chance of saying something that could leave a negative impression on the driver.
Some of you chatty Cathys might think it comes across as rude to not engage in discussion, and in some ways you’re right. But I’m sure you’ve heard the famous quote
It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt. By remaining friendly yet neutral it removes the opportunity for the driver to be sure about any negative inclination they might ascribe to a reserved personality. Are you being rude, or are you just a completely boring nitwit? Tough call, and there’s room for doubt. That doubt is easier to mend in our final stage than would be from inciting a negative response, intentionally or not, through increased interactions. You have to cross this minefield either way, and your best bet is to limit the number of footsteps it takes. Positioning for a neutral experience in the greeting and ride sets the stage for the grand finale.
If you haven’t managed to put your foot in your mouth the ride should have been pleasant. Nothing noteworthy. A normal, everyday ride. Now, we can focus on the farewell. This was the key change that I believe had the most impact on scoring. I was overly polite, engaging, and communicative during the farewell portion. Oh, I laid it on THICK with politeness and friendliness. This is where the memory hacks start to take place. I wanted the farewell to be the most prominent and pleasant interaction of the trip. Being overt and talkative right at the end will have a lasting impact on the personal memory of you and their view of the trip. Their muddled doubts should melt away with the sheer force of your polite posturing.
To continue in that vein the recency effect explains that given a list of items a person will have the easiest time remembering the last items, then the first items, and finally the items in the middle. Consider all of the interactions with the driver as items in a list. Those are what they use to decide their score. In our scenario with the driver, they will remember the farewell the most, the greeting second, and finally the drive. But these interactions are not basic items such as from a shopping list. Each interaction can carry a psychological weight. Meaning there’s a threshold where the negativity bias can override the memory biases. We only want them to think about the last interaction where they were met with a blast of good vibes. Not any negative events that could have happened during the drive. That’s why it’s better to seem boring and neutral during the trip. Increased interactions increase the chances of making a mistake when your best move at this point is to make no mistakes at all. Then hit them with all of your positive energy right at the end.
Thank you so much. Have a fantastic day. It was a pleasure. Thank you.
Thank you so much for the candy! Have a wonderful day! See you, bye bye!
This was so great. Thank you so much for the ride. I like your shirt by the way. Have a great day!
Pour. it. on. thick. This is the only time that matters. They have a few moments to make a decision on how to rate you before they zoom off to the next client. That brief but potent injection of positivity at the end is most likely to be the thing they remember when deciding how to rate the entirely of the trip. At least if you didn’t cause any lingering negative interactions that outweigh it.
I practiced these concepts for several weeks (maybe even a bit more than a month) making sure to be consistent with the approach. Treating every ride as an operation. Eventually, my Uber Rating was raised to 4.88. Which is .2 points higher than my previous peak.
“you hacked your Uber rating by being really nice?” is something you might be asking. Yep, that’s basically it.