The News: Uber’s coronavirus proposal is good PR — the ride-sharing company is reportedly considering temporarily suspending the accounts of drivers and riders who have tested positive for the coronavirus or have been exposed to it. Uber suggested several days earlier that it would offer compensation to drivers diagnosed with the coronavirus and/or quarantined for up to 14 days. Read more at CNN.
Uber’s Coronavirus Proposal is Good PR — But is it Achievable?
Analyst Take: While many companies around the world wrestle with the financial pros and cons of asking employees to work from home, news of the day is that Uber is considering temporarily suspending the accounts of drivers and riders who have tested for or been exposed to the coronavirus — Uber’s coronavirus proposal if you will.
Stepping back from that for just a moment, considering that in order to slow down the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), for many other companies and their employees telecommuting isn’t an option. Employees have to be physically present for the business to run. Packages still have to be delivered, food still has to be cooked and served, buses, trains, vans, and trucks still have to be driven, and yes, someone still has to be behind the wheel of a vehicle earning revenue for Uber.
Unlike companies like Microsoft and Google, Uber cannot ask all of its drivers to stay home. Until a significant percentage of the company’s business comes from self-driving vehicles, it will continue to depend on human beings to drive. That puts Uber in a difficult operational and legal position, to say nothing of brand management optics during this crisis. The question that increasingly hangs on people’s lips as they begin to adjust to the new rules of social distancing is “what about Uber?” And to be fair, the question is also “what about taxi cabs and Lyft? And for that matter, what about all forms of public transportation? This problem is not limited to Uber.
Uber’s Coronavirus Proposal
At any rate, Uber had to come up with a response to the Coronavirus epidemic and, at the very least, show that it is taking measures to protect employees, contractors, and customers. The message, roughly translated: “All is not well, but we’ve got this,” and voilà we’ve got ourselves an Uber Coronavirus Proposal.
The plan to compensate drivers for up to two weeks if they must be quarantined is a good start. All companies should be doing this, or at least be preparing to. And on its face, the plan — if it is in fact a real plan — Uber’s Coronavirus Proposal’s plan that is, is to temporarily suspend the accounts of drivers and customers diagnosed with the coronavirus, appears to be exactly the sort of draconian measure that investors, public health officials, and consumers are looking for from companies like Uber. The problem, in my view, is that it may not be achievable, and here is why:
- I don’t see any mechanism that would allow Uber to know who in its ecosystem of drivers and customers, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus. HIPAA privacy protections aside, I don’t see any open-access real-time coronavirus database that would give Uber visibility on the infection status of individuals, let alone at scale. Even if Uber could somehow manage to convince all of its drivers to voluntarily report their infection status, I don’t see how users could be compelled to do the same. And why would they want to? Talk about the ultimate in personal privacy invasion.
- Beyond that, I also don’t see how Uber would have access to information that eventually clears individuals who have recovered from the coronavirus and are now considered “safe and free” to be in their vehicles, whether driving or riding. In other words, I don’t see a mechanism that would allow Uber to manage this over time either.
Additionally, we know that individuals infected with the virus can transmit it while still being asymptomatic, meaning that contagion from an infected individual is possible before they are ever tested, let alone confirmed to have been infected. Therefore, addressing the threat of contagion by only focusing on confirmed cases fails to adequately address the threat.
I could be wrong, and perhaps Uber or a data-collection third party in Uber’s ecosystem is working on creating a real-time database of individuals under quarantine, in spite of HIPAA regulations. But shy of that tool existing, I fail to see how Uber can actually do this. Until there is more clarity on exactly how Uber intends to put this plan into effect, we should all take Uber’s coronavirus proposal announcement with a very big grain of salt.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.