With an ever growing pile of operating cash, Uber is rolling full steam ahead as what could end up as the very first ride-sharing monopoly.
More specifically, Uber recently updated its API to allow other developers to include a “ride request button” in their apps. There’s just one catch: Doing so prohibits developers from adding support for other ride-hailing services like Gett or Lyft to that same app.
Developers can also sign up for Uber’s affiliate program, which will allow them to receive $5 for every new user they refer to the service in the United States. It doesn’t look like developers will get paid for rides hailed by existing Uber users.
TechCrunch reports that Uber policies restricting the use of “the Uber API, Uber API Materials, or Uber Data” in connection with “a third party that provides services competitive to Uber’s products and services” will apply to this button.
The move provides a clear benefit for Uber: Its service can enter more apps without having to worry about competitors doing the same. It’s kinda like asking to be allowed into someone’s home then demanding they lock the door once you’re in.
It’s less clear how other developers might benefit. Sure, they could make money via user referrals, but that’s a far cry from Uber’s talk about differentiating an application from its competition by offering a “magical experience for riders.”
Besides, wouldn’t it be better to allow people to choose which ride-hailing service to use than to only support Uber? The company has a well-documented women problem; should developers make it the only ride-hailing service in their apps?
That will depend on what developers prioritize — making life easier for as many people as they can; drawing the most revenues by supporting the ride-hailing service with the most fruitful referral program; or bowing to Uber’s dominance.
Not that they currently have other options. No other ride-hailing service offers a feature like this, and none are keen to talk about the possibility that they might: Neither Gett nor Lyft responded to repeated requests for comment on this post.
All of which means this could be a moot point. What if Uber’s competitors never attempt something like this? Well, then, it doesn’t much matter if Uber’s terms wouldn’t allow for developers to include something in their apps. No harm done!
Still, that begs the question of why Uber feels the need to include these terms in the first place. If it has no competition in this regard, and it’s not clear that it ever will compete with other ride-hailing companies in this way, why bother?
An Uber spokesperson gave the following statement when I requested comment:
Our goal is to support developers with the tools and resources they need to be successful. We value the user experience and have parameters in place to ensure that the Uber experience is consistent across all apps that utilize our API.”
Fair enough, though that doesn’t really address concerns about anti-competitive behavior. Uber’s still restricting developers from supporting non-existing tools offered by competitive services in exchange for the ability to make Uber money and maybe, eventually, receive some of that wealth themselves. Some “success.”