Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Uber Misadventure

Update: After I published this blogpost, Uber Chennai contacted me on Twitter and e-mail and have taken steps to delete my account. They have also finally let me know that it was them who ran the promotion through Facebook Sponsored Stories. Thanks Swathy! 

Uber took me for a ride. And How! 

"KK Nagar to Egmore; 10-00 PM. Same address pick up" is one line I'd been repeating every Sunday for the last few weeks. Dissatisfaction with the attitude of some of the local cab vendors had led me to explore other options outside the traditional ones that I had generally trusted in Chennai - Taxi for Sure and Ola being two great experiences. 

The back-story
Uber was one service that had been making all the right noises on social media - with photos of local celebrities taking rides on their Mercs; offering tempting rates, and free sign-up credits. I went ahead and signed up for Uber despite the annoyance of a mandatory credit card (CVV number included!) and an app that requires you to turn on your GPS for even opening properly (unlike say an Ola or a Taxi for Sure that ask you for Location Access, but open up even if you don't share the same.)

Given I had signed up through a social media share of a referral link, I gave in to the temptation of "free credits" and went ahead to create a referral link of my own - with a custom URL to boot. [Link: https://uber.com/invite/ubershrinivassg]. And like anyone else, I went ahead and shared it across Facebook and Twitter; in the hope of successful referrals. 

And that was the beginning of my misadventure, that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. 

#SpamStint

The first taste of things to come, was from the third comment on the photo in the left - "Sponsored Post?". I had no inkling of what was going on at that time, and I thought Adithya was just pulling my leg, like has been happening off late on my status updates; and was jovially referring to whether I had been paid by Uber to push this link through my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Little did I even think about someone was actually promoting my post all over Facebook! 

Then friends started pinging me across Twitter and Facebook, to tell me that my post was showing up every single moment as a Sponsored post on the right hand side of the Facebook page, where Paid Promotions go. I reached out to Uber Chennai's official handle immediately on Twitter, to ask them if it was them who were running the promotion. 

Uber immediately refuted things, and said they had no idea who was running these promotions, or why they were showing up as sponsored posts. Things went for the worse when the post started showing up as a Sponsored Story on the News Feed of people. I was starting to get more pings from people, ranging from asking me not to 'Spam' them to some who asked me how much I was earning from this! #SpamStint, they started terming it; for possibly no fault of mine. 

Uber Chennai's internal 'investigation' on the same led to nothing and they said they were escalating the same to their HO, to try and get to the bottom of things. 

That was the last I heard from them. They stopped responding to my e-mails asking them to terminate my account with them and delete my card details from their website. The only way to catch their attention was to publicly keep tweeting to them, failing which they never responded. Something, which is quite weird for a brand/service that positions itself on providing an unforgettable experience to its patrons. 

My issue with Uber

A friend said "This advert and Narendra Modi for PM fund are the only two things sprouted across internet pages and also in BBC-SKY Sports Pages".  A couple of them asked me to take things further with Uber for using my image without my permission. Some folks on Twitter pointed me out to Facebook's terms that allow 'social sharing' though the samples provided on their website are all brand promoted content, with a "ABC likes this" endorsement - though nothing like what was happening with my post. 

In my mails to Uber, I repeatedly insisted I had no issue whatsoever with the promotion, but only wanted to know who on earth was paying loads of money for showing my referral link to people all over Facebook. Use my post, but just let me know it is you, so that it doesn't creep me out about who on earth is it, doing this. Uber repeatedly reassured me they had nothing to do with it, and had no idea why this was happening. 

But who, other than them had an incentive to promote a referral link, is something that fails me. Wouldn't someone else rather spend his money on promoting his own referral link, if he wanted to do it at all; and earn some credits for himself, rather than do it for me? Was this a pilot test by Facebook, that I had fallen victim to, with Uber themselves being actually unaware of why this was happening?

I kind of lost confidence on the brand, and despite the 300 free-credits that I have, I would rather delete my account with them, rather than give them a try after this bitter experience. But weirdly, according to their terms of use, nor can I directly delete my card details with Uber, or can I remove my account on my own. 

At Uber's mercy

Right now, I am at the mercy of a brand I don't want to associate with anymore, who have my card details and CVV number (and they assure me they are stored securely on a third party server). I can't delete MY card details if I don't want to be part of their service any more. I can't delete MY account with them, if I don't want to use their services anymore. 

All I can do is, to fill up forms on their website and keep tweeting to them asking them to please respond and stop this whole misadventure. 
Do they have a contact number where I can reach out to them? No. 
Do they have mine - a worried customer who they can reach out to and re-assure? Yes. But they have chosen not to, so far. 

The last contact from them on mail when I asked them to delete my account was a  reply that went on the lines of: "Meanwhile if you'd like to delete your account, I can help you with that. But I hope you will give us a shot of getting to the bottom of this. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation to this and I will definitely reach out as soon as I have an answer." 

This was 8 days ago, and since then I've sent a couple of mails to them, asking them to delete my account which have gone without response, and except for a Twitter reply that said "We will reply to you in a few hours",  I am yet to hear from Uber and their team in Chennai. I did give Uber a shot to get to the bottom of things, but they have done nothing. Though I do agree, they might have nothing to do with the whole promotion hungama at the end of the day, they could have responded on time or re-assured me enough to have me use their service. 

Right now, the promoted posts have stopped, only because I changed the privacy settings on that post, and made it visible just to me and no one else. But I have no means to reach Uber and delete my account or my card details except for Twitter - where the Uber handle just tweets automated replies, and the Uber Chennai handle says "We will reply to your email in a couple of hours". [And they reply to mails or DMs ONLY when you tweet publicly about the same].

Contrast this to a Taxi for Sure or Ola Cabs who reached out to me repeatedly when I had issues, to ensure I had a smooth ride both on phone and on social media ...

Thanks, but no thanks Uber. I don't want to ride for free. Not any more. You just took me for a Uber Cool ride. 

PS: You know the worst part of it all? Who ever did the promotion, did such a bad job of things that there was not even a single sign up. 

--
Special thanks to Nikhil Narayanan, Akshay Shishoo, Utsav Kumar, Bharathwaj Sundar, Adithya Sundar, Yagyesh Joshi, Sarthak Phadke and Kiran Vr; some of whom brought this to light to me. Some of whose posts and screenshots, I've reproduced here. 

1 comment:

Sarcastic Bastard said...

How was the ride as in the actual ride in those uber cars?