AU professor conducts research on bias in rideshare apps

Chris Parker's study finds that LGBTQ+ and black passengers face more cancellations

AU professor conducts research on bias in rideshare apps
Chris Parker, an assistant professor in the information technology and analytics department at American University

An assistant professor in the information technology and analytics department at AU recently co-authored a study with an assistant professor from Indiana University, which found that rideshare apps have particular biases with minority passengers. They concluded that LGBTQ+ and black passengers face more cancellations when they use rideshare apps. 

In 2018, different rideshare platforms responded to reports of the bias by removing information about riders’ gender and race from the ride requests presented to drivers. 

Yet, professor Chris Parker’s study shows that these adjustments have not diminished biases across the board. Black riders and riders perceived to be LGBTQ+ or support those in the LGBTQ+ community are canceled on more frequently before pickup than white and perceptibly straight passengers.

Parker said that some rideshare platforms used to provide information about potential riders to drivers, but this feature was removed in an effort to combat bias. He finds that this change is why it generally takes longer for minorities to get a ride.

“By removing the ability to see information before the drivers accepted a ride request, the hope was that all of the bias we were observing would cease to exist,” Parker told NBC News. “But after the change was instituted, we suspected that there’s still the problem of some drivers not wanting to pick up certain passengers.”

Parker found that there was no significant evidence of bias against women compared to male riders. The research also found that both black men and black women were three times more likely to be canceled on than their white peers. LGBTQ+ support resulted in doubling their chance of being canceled on. 

LGBTQ+ drivers face bias as well. Recently, a transgender woman quit driving for Lyft after an intoxicated passenger allegedly hit her head and told her she was “nothing but a man.” In May of this year, a gay couple in Indianapolis claimed they were booted from a Lyft ride for sharing a “short kiss on the lips.”

When asked if his findings were surprising, Parker told The Eagle, “No. Although, I was very surprised by the no-bias of women. I was maddened about how LGBTQ+ [people were] three times more likely to get canceled on.” 

Parker recommends that platforms and policymakers reflect on the type and timing of information they give to rideshare drivers. He also said that platforms should consider penalizing drivers when they exhibit biased cancellation behavior or rewarding them when they exhibit especially low cancellation rates for minority riders.

“There’s a lot of next-step actions platforms might consider to ensure a good outcome and that everybody has a safe, comfortable, non-combative ride,” Parker said.

Parker said that while his suggestions might reduce bias, they don’t effectively solve the problem. He hopes his research brings light to issues that affect minority individuals. 

“Drivers need to internalize the cost of [the] cancellation of minority groups,” Parker said. “That would be a step in the right direction.”

aclarke@theeagleonline.com

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