Tech Etiquette: The Only Correct Way to Rate Uber Drivers and Airbnbs

Photo: PS Photography via Pexels

You just had a mediocre Uber ride. Do you leave a mediocre review?

Let’s say your last Uber or Lyft ride was kind of meh. The driver was curt, maybe, or took a wrong turn and got you stuck in traffic for an extra minute or two. But the car wasn’t a death trap, it was clean enough, and you got where you were going without feeling like your life was in danger. How should you have rated the ride? 3 stars, maybe? 4, if you’re feeling generous?

No. You rate drivers 5 stars. Always. Unless they truly, royally suck.

This was a hard one for me to get my head around. I spent more than 20 years as a professional critic. I reviewed computers, gadgets, software, and startup business models for companies like CNET and Yahoo. On my watch, nothing ever got a perfect review. Because no product is perfect. And I always wanted to encourage companies to improve.

This professional logic doesn’t work for individuals driving their own cars or renting out rooms in their own houses. These people are providing a commodity service, working for an algorithm (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, etc.) that matches them with customers only when they maintain the highest ratings. Their market-making software penalizes people with lower ratings. There is massive grade inflation at work here, it’s true. But it’s not your job to stand on principle.

Green squares indicate correct behavior.

If you rate someone a 4, your review might just be the one that pushes their average down below some arbitrarily high threshold (4.6 or 4.7, according to various reports) that could cause them to get kicked off the service, or more subtly, get less-good business. The same holds true for Airbnb.

There’s a reason people on Etsy sell signs like these.

If there’s something not acceptable about your service, you should definitely feel free to tell the provider — privately. But unless you really want to punish them financially for a transgression, or they are so bad that you feel it is your moral duty to warn off future customers, the ethical thing to do is to rate them as highly as you can.

A disclosure: I am an Airbnb host, so this post is in my own self-interest. It’s what I want to tell all my guests, before they leave and I wait anxiously for them to review my place.