RSG030: Alex Rosenblat On How Much Control Uber Really Has Over Its Drivers

On today’s podcast, I get to interview Alex Rosenblat, a researcher from the Data & Society Research Institute.  Now that name may seem familiar because in addition to spending the last 9 months studying how Uber drivers interact with the driver app, Alex has also published several very popular articles on things like Uber’s phantom cabs and a technical paper on the subject of driver control.

I often like to joke that there’s no one who spends more time talking to drivers than I do, but Alex definitely gives me a run for my money and it’s interesting to hear about what she found during her research.  We touch on a lot of different topics during the show but I think it made for a great interview.

RSG030: Alex Rosenblat On How Much Control Uber Really Has Over Its Drivers
RSG030: Alex Rosenblat On How Much Control Uber Really Has Over Its Drivers

If you’d like to read a transcript of this podcast, please click here


  • Today’s podcast is all about Uber and its control over drivers
  • Guest Alex Rosenblat works at the Data & Society Research Institute
  • She, and her colleague, studied how Uber drivers interact with their apps
  • Special thanks to our sponsor, Stride Health – Stride offers your own personal advisor if you have specific, unique questions related to health care, the insurance marketplace, and more

Interview with Alex Rosenblat

  • Researcher & Technical Writer at the Data & Society Research Institute
  • Conducted a study, along with Luke Stark, on Uber drivers and their interactions with their apps
  • Interested in this topic because of drivers’ entrepreneurship as well as all the potential opportunities for people to hail drivers, unlike the traditional system we have now
  • Alex wrote the popular Uber’s Phantom Cabs article

Research on Uber

  • Researched claims made about Uber’s algorithms regarding supply and demand
  • 9 month study on these supply and demand claims and their effect on driver behavior
  • Uber may have more control over drivers than we think
  • Uber is not one entity – messaging can be incoherent from city to city
  • This is done on purpose and very strategically

Driver Communication with Uber

  • Community Service Representatives were primarily contacted via email, rarely in-person
  • CSRs responses seemed automated and unhelpful, clear that CSRs were not drivers themselves
  • Inclination is to be loyal to the company, but messaging is consistently about Uber as a “platform” and not as an employer
  • Rating system provokes anxiety among drivers, could encourage bias among passengers

The Relationship Between Uber & Drivers

  • Drivers rarely refer to themselves as “Uber partners” – just not terminology they use like Uber might want them to
  • How drivers see themselves can have huge implications for Uber
  • Uber actually has more control than you would think – Uber contract, for example

Advice for Drivers

  • Be aware that you don’t have “total freedom” like Uber wants you to think
  • Uber asks a lot of drivers and things are very ambiguous – things like surge pricing, for example
  • Use forums as much as you can – forums will help drivers answer a lot of questions
  • Keep logs of the trips you make
  • Important to protect yourself, but be aware of wire-tapping laws!

Future of Ridesharing Work

  • Uber’s main problem is future lawsuits
  • These lawsuits will have implications for Uber’s control over drivers and could end up changing the Uber system entirely
  • Technical changes with input from drivers
  • Drivers do need more of a voice in upcoming changes
  • Want to share your experiences with Alex Rosenblat? Contact her here!


  • Uber does have a lot of control over drivers right now, without a lot of input from drivers
  • Uber can shift accountability to passengers with the rating system
  • Going forward, it will be interesting to see what direction Uber takes in driver relationships
  • Thank you to Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark for their research, and thank you to Alex for sharing a condensed version of her research with us
  • Sign up for the Maximum Ridesharing Profits course here
  • Have suggestions for who you’d like to see on this podcast? Send me an email!
  • Check out the full transcript here
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Show Notes

Stride Health

This episode was sponsored by Stride Health, they’re a company that connects self employed workers with health coverage and health care for free! And even if you already have health insurance, once you sign up, you’ll get access to a personal advisor who you can call to get help with all your health care decisions and more.  Sign up here to get free access today!

If you’d like to read a transcript of this podcast, please click here

Drivers, what did you think about the interview with Alex Rosenblat?  Was most of this news to you or did you already understand how this system works?

-Harry @ RSG