Today’s partnership between Uber and Spotify to allow riders to control the music at first seems like an entirely good thing. Passengers are paying for a service, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to choose what they listen to? And for drivers, it’s not mandatory. Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, says they won’t be forced to offer the option if they’d rather not drive wannabe DJs around all day.
But the truth is, if the feature takes off, drivers will be forced to offer it on pain of their ratings being affected by negative feedback from mithering music fans who wanted control of the stereo. When riders are allowed to pick the music, can it be long before we see a case of an Uber driver crashing after being distracted by terrible tunes played at ear-splitting volume? Drivers will be able to control the volume but may demure from turning the music down for fear of taking a ratings hit.
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On UberPeople, a forum for Uber drivers, a vocal subset is already getting antsy about the onslaught of poor playlists headed their way. One says:
“This particular issue has the makings of a lot of potential lawsuits. Bad move on Uber’s part. It’s hard enough to get the drunks home without being distracted by their perpetual disturbances…just a vehicle of loud, obnoxious drunks is punishment enough. Adding loud music only adds another unsafe condition for the drivers.”
Shouldn’t we be more concerned about being driven by someone who’s focused on the road than whether we’ve got total control of the sound system? The potential for clashes between a rider’s musical tastes and drivers forced to endure bad beats across long shifts doesn’t seem worth it. Will a driver who gets subjected to music with offensive lyrics have to endure them or face a bad rating?
One driver on the UberPeople forum says he doesn’t “offer anything but a safe ride and good conversation”. That doesn’t seem so unreasonable. The expectation placed upon drivers by Uber that they offer all sorts of added extras to the ride is unfair, particularly as those are employed as independent contractors who saddle the upkeep and repair costs to keep their cars on the road.
Giving riders the expectation that they’ll be able to control another aspect of their journey without having to interact with their driver also pushes us further from genuine human interactions.
It’s already all too easy to forget that the car you summoned at the push of the button is driven by a human being. Uber may be eagerly awaiting the arrival of Google’s self-driving cars, but it should think a little more carefully about the people its business relies upon in the meantime.