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Uber Denies Having 'Phantom Cabs'

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The car icons that are seen hovering in the vicinity of a passenger's pick-up location while opening the Uber passenger app might be fake, according to a research from think-tank Data & Society.

Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark, a pair of researchers from Data & Society who are studying Uber's user interaction, said in an article for Vice's Motherboard blog, that what the Uber passenger app shows can be deceptive and the cars shown close to a passenger's pick-up location might be fake.

The discrepancy would not have been obvious in a busy location with a shorter wait time. But in more remote areas, the app clearly shows drivers where there are none, according to the researchers. Rosenblat said there is speculation that "phantom cars" on the app are intentional on Uber's part.

"If a potential passenger opened up the app and saw no cars around, she might take another cab service. But if she saw a cluster of cars seemingly milling around on the same street, she's more likely to request a ride," Rosenblat said.

But a Uber spokesperson reportedly said in response that the number of cars and their location on the app are generally accurate. According to the spokesperson, the app simply shows there are passengers on the road at the time.

"This is not a representation of the exact numbers of drivers or their location. This is more of a visual effect letting people know that partners are searching for fares.... It would be better of you to think of this as a screen saver on a computer," the Uber spokesperson reportedly said.

The researchers have also said that Uber's controversial practice of increasing the fare during times of high demand, known as surge pricing, is based on illusory circumstances.

"While surge pricing is represented as a reflection of the marketplace, our research suggests that Uber's algorithms are also predictive: they forecast supply and demand so that drivers can be pre-positioned to meet predicted demand, but they don't always reflect an accurate picture in real time," Rosenblat said.

by RTT Staff Writer

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