20th July 2023

How Uber Used Psychology to Manipulate Its Drivers: Unveiling Dark Patterns and the Need for Ethical Design

In recent years, the rise of the gig economy has transformed the way we work and interact with technology. Uber, one of the pioneers, disrupted the transportation industry with its convenient ride-hailing service. However, beneath its shiny exterior, Uber employed various psychological tactics to manipulate its drivers, leaving them vulnerable and creating a need for a discussion on ethical design.

This article explores the concept of dark patterns and highlights the importance of designing products and services with ethics in mind.

Understanding Dark Patterns

Dark patterns are user interface design techniques that intentionally manipulate users, nudging them towards certain actions that may not be in their best interest. These patterns often exploit cognitive biases and psychological vulnerabilities, leading to unintended consequences for users. Uber, among other companies, has been accused of implementing dark patterns to maximise profit at the expense of its drivers.

adobestock_473985120_720.jpg The Psychological Tactics Employed by Uber

Scarcity: Uber employed a tactic known as "time pressure" to keep drivers on the road for longer hours. By displaying messages like "high demand" or "surge pricing," they created a sense of scarcity, triggering drivers to continue working in hopes of earning more money during peak hours.

Social Proof: Uber utilised social proof to influence drivers' behaviour. By showing them messages like "your earnings are lower than average," they encouraged drivers to work longer hours in an attempt to match the perceived success of their peers.

Gamification: Uber implemented game-like elements, such as badges and rewards, to increase driver engagement and motivate them to complete more trips. These gamification techniques are used to tap into drivers' competitive nature, driving them to spend more time on the road.

Manipulative Notifications: Uber bombarded drivers with constant notifications and alerts, exploiting the fear of missing out (FOMO). By displaying messages like "You're close to reaching your earning goal," they enticed drivers to continue working beyond their intended limits.

adobestock_525383591_editorial_use_only_720.jpg Designing Ethically

To navigate away from dark patterns and foster a culture of ethical design, businesses can employ several strategies to mitigate manipulative practices.

Ethical design requires transparent communication with users. Companies should aim to provide clear and honest information about their services, including payment structures, working conditions, and any potential limitations or risks associated with their platforms. As well as this, businesses should prioritise user autonomy and empowerment. Providing drivers with control over their working hours, trip acceptances, and transparent decision-making algorithms can help mitigate manipulative practices.

Companies must also obtain informed consent from users regarding the use of their personal data and any algorithmic decision-making processes. Users should have the ability to understand and modify the parameters that govern their interactions within the platform. Additionally, designs should be user-centric meaning it should prioritise user well-being and satisfaction over short-term gains. Balancing business objectives with the long-term impact on users will result in more sustainable and ethical platforms.


Uber's use of psychological manipulation through dark patterns sheds light on the need for ethical design in the digital landscape. As technology continues to shape our lives, it becomes crucial to recognize the potential harm that can arise from manipulative practices. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of designers and technology companies to build products and services that serve humanity rather than exploit it.