Uber Critical

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As the bartender gave me the nod for last drinks, I reached for my mobile. It was well and truly time to call it a night, and I was in no state to drive. So I pulled up Uber on my phone and scanned for the nearest driver. The first one that bounced up showed a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

Now ordinarily you’d think, by any reasonable rating of performance and quality, 4 out of 5 would qualify as a more than acceptable measure. A 4-star restaurant is expected to be top of the tree, a 4-star hotel is good enough for the most salubrious occasion and, while a 4 out of 5 movie may not necessarily be an Oscar-winner, it’s certainly more than worth the price of popcorn and admission. But as anyone familiar with the Uber app will know, in the Uber-Universe this rating was far from a sign of overwhelming approval.

I figured this 4 out 5 rating pretty much meant my driver was likely to turn up either drunk, naked or armed to the teeth, perhaps all three. Suffice to say, I kept looking. The next driver came up a moderately more appealing 4.4 out of 5. Better, yes, but still hardly covered in glory. I was left pondering; could this nefarious non-identity even be trusted? What had they done to deserve this slur? What terrible past were they trying to hide? How many unwitting passengers before me had been caught up in their trap of lies and deceit, only to be left with anger and regret as they disappeared into the distance, having sucked the joy from a small part of their unsuspecting passenger’s soul…?

Okay, so maybe I was overthinking it slightly. But at 4.4, I just wasn’t going to engage.

The truth is, since Uber started letting passengers rate its drivers, we’ve each become the judge, jury and executioner of every Uber licensee. The Uber rating system has become a leading light in modern day consumerism, holding everyone accountable, encouraging better service, and empowering passengers and drivers alike to determine in advance whom they can trust and who is worthy of their custom. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a downside. After all, what cabbie ever offered you bottled water and a mint to while away the journey?

But what if our modern-day obsession with accountability were to go beyond the mere rating of our profile on a ride sharing app? What if we were all to be monitored in every facet of our daily lives, rating our value as a citizen of our community, determining who we might interact with, what services we may access, and what transactions we may enter into?

The scary truth is this concept may be more ‘science of the future’ than ‘science fiction’. We have known for some time now that China plans to implement a nation-wide social credit system by 2020. Whilst it is currently undergoing large-scale testing through a number of the country’s biggest companies, the Government plans to eventually adopt the rating system throughout China, so that each of its 1.4 billion citizens will essentially be given a rating based on five categories: social connections, consumption behavior, security, wealth, and compliance. The score will be available to the public and will look at everything from spending habits, to the payment of bills, to social interactions. It will dictate one’s trustworthiness, credit, and general value as a citizen. It will determine the jobs one may apply for, what transactions they may enter into, even the schools that their children can qualify for. Those that are trustworthy will, according to the Government, be free to roam “everywhere under heaven” whilst those with a low score will have their movement strictly curtailed.

The idea will no doubt hold some fascination for the fans of current-affairs-television-style naming and shaming tactics, which allow those suspected of unscrupulous dealings to be publicly chased through the street by righteous accusers, intent on exposing their alleged indiscretions.But of course the flip side of that coin is that the modern penchant for popular consumer rating and often condemnation can sometimes exact unfair punishment without due process. Those with a nostalgic appreciation of the warnings of George Orwell’s bleak novel 1984 will worry that if such processes become institutionalised, as is currently proposed in China, corruption, oppression and injustice will inevitably follow.

I scanned my mobile for another driver. This one came up 4.6. Not perfect, but good enough.

Brendan Nyst

Director and Litigation Lawyer, Gold Coast

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