The Oberservability Of Uber08 Mar 2017
I had another observation out of the Uber news from this last week, where Uber was actively targeting regulators and police in cities around the globe, and delivering an alternate experience for these users because they had them targeted as an enemy of the company. To most startups, regulation is seen as the enemy, so these users belong in a special bucket--so they can be excluded from the service, and even actively given a special Uber experience.
It makes me think about the observability of the platforms we depend on, like Uber. How observable is Uber to the average user, to regulators and law enforcement, the government? How observable should the platforms we depend on be? Can everyone sign up for an account, use the website, mobile applications, or APIs and expect the same results? How well can we understand the internal states of Uber, the platform, and company, from knowledge obtained through its existing external outputs -- mobile application, and API.
When it comes to the observability of the platforms we depend on via our mobile phones each day there are no laws stating they have to treat us the same. The applications on our mobile phones are personalized, making notions of net neutrality seem naive. There is nothing that says Uber can't treat each user differently, based upon their profile score, or if they are law enforcement. We are not entitled to any sort of visibility into the algorithms that decide whether we get a ride with Uber, or how they see us--this is the mystery, magic, and allure of the algorithm. This is why startups are able to wrap anything in an algorithm and sell it as the next big thing.
The question of how observable Uber will be defined in coming months and years. What surprises me is that we are just now getting around to having these conversations, when these companies possess an unprecedented amount of observability into our personal and professional lives. The Uber app knows a lot about us, and in turn, Uber knows a lot about us. I'm thinking the more important question is, why are we allowing for so much observability by these tech companies into our lives, with so little in return when it comes to understanding business practices and the ethics behind the company firewall?