Why Uber is watching your smartphone's battery level

Yes, ride-sharing firm Uber is collecting information about your smartphone's battery life, but it promises it's not using that information to make you pay higher fares, despite the fact that it knows you probably would.

Did you know that ride-sharing firm Uber is collecting information about your smartphone's battery life?

You're probably wondering why the company would do such a thing. After all, the state of your smartphone's battery has nothing to do with ride-sharing, right?

Wrong.

Uber's head of economic research, Keith Chen, told NPR's Shankar Vedantam during an episode of The Hidden Brain podcast that users of the service are willing to accept surge pricing increases of as much as 9.9 times if their smartphone's battery is close to flat.

The logic is that if your battery is almost dead, then you feel at risk of being stranded, and that means that rides are much more valuable to you than they would be if your battery had sufficient charge.

Oh, but don't worry, Chen promises that the company doesn't use this information to set fares.

Want to block apps from being able to see your battery's charge level? You can't. There's no mechanism to prevent this, making it one of the many different bits of information about ourselves that we are leaking every time we use apps.

And on the surface, battery life seems like an innocent metric to collect, but when combined with other data, and a sprinkling of economics and human psychology and that data becomes very precious indeed.

See also: