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Over the past couple of weeks, brands of all shapes and sizes have been exposed for their past and present racial biases–and now, rideshare companies are being questioned for biases that may have been built into their systems from the start.

According to a recent study focused on algorithmic bias, racial discrimination could very well be present in the pricing of rides on apps like Uber and Lyft. As reported by Salon, the research from Akshat Pandey and Aylin Caliskan of George Washington University boasts a data set of more than 100 million trips taken in Chicago between November 2018 and December 2019. 68 million of those trips consisted of individual riders.

The authors of the study explain that while “demand and speed” have the highest correlation with how much a ride costs, their analysis shows multiple examples of varying forms of potential “social bias” when riders are picked up or dropped off in certain neighborhoods.

According to the study, riders “may be facing social bias if picked up in a neighborhood with a low percentage of houses priced less than the median house price of Chicago, or dropped off in a neighborhood with a low percentage of white people.”

Caliskan got straight to the point with New Scientist last week:

“Basically, if you’re going to a neighborhood where there’s a large African-American population, you’re going to pay a higher fare price for your ride.”

Following this news, Uber and Lyft have both issued statements in response to the study.

A spokesperson for Uber said that the company commends studies of this type, stating that they can help brands grasp a deeper understanding of the effects of dynamic pricing. The rep went on to add that other “relevant factors” were not considered in the study, including trip purposes, time of day, and land-use/neighborhood patterns.

A Lyft representative said they “recognize” that systemic biases are “deeply rooted in society” and explained that the company also commends studies that focus on the issue of “unintentional” technology discrimination. Lyft also went on to point out additional factors they say contribute to pricing variance.

So, now that the brand recognizes this bias, will they change their algorithms? Guess we just have to wait and see…


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