But the new platforms let reviews go both ways, and vary in their transparency about the process. Yelp is straightforward: Businesses can post replies to critical customers. On Lyft, the second biggest of the new cab companies, passengers are vaguely warned that “a low star rating” means requests for rides may not be accepted. Uber does not mention passenger ratings at all in its user agreement but noted in a blog post that “an Uber trip should be a good experience for drivers too.”
It does not seem to take much to annoy some Uber drivers. On one online forum, an anonymous driver said he gave poor reviews to “people who are generally negative and would tend to bring down my mood (or anyone around them).” Another was cavalier about the whole process: “1 star for passengers does not do them any harm. Sensible drivers won’t pick them up, but so what?”
Even those who know Uber best appear surprised by how easy it is to fall from grace. “I was at a 5 for a long time, then I had a string of 4 stars,” Travis Kalanick, the company’s chief executive, recently told San Francisco magazine. “I don’t know what happened. I think what happened was I was a little stressed at work. I was not as courteous as I should have been.”
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the rental economy — taking its cue from the Internet in general — sees everything as either horrible or great, with little room for nuance. Lyft nods to this when it tells passengers reviewing drivers that ”anything lower than 5 indicates that you were somehow unhappy with the ride.” Drivers can be dropped from their services when they fall below 4.5, but it is unclear what it takes to get banned as a passenger.
“Have riders been given a temporary cooling-off period or barred from using the app for inappropriate or unsafe behavior? Yes,” Uber said in a blog post, adding that it wanted only “the most respectful riders.” It declined to be more explicit.
So what happens when Uber or Lyft refuse you service because of ratings you can't see and have little control over? What happens when there are drivers that intentionally rate certain people as bad passengers regardless of how they act? It's a system that can be easily abused, and if you don't believe it, take a look at the comments section of any of the online articles I link to.
What happens when the comments section of the internet determines who gets service as a paying customer in general? Uber and other companies like it are leading the way, but what if we get to the point where people start using this to blackball people they don't like?
What happens when your grocery store or your kid's school or your place of worship decides to take up this philosophy?
Something to think about.