DoorDash delivery drivers try to manipulate the food biz's payment algorithm to earn a living wage in gig economy

The trick is to get buddies to decline low-paying jobs and check old code


DoorDash drivers are encouraging one another to turn down food delivery jobs below a minimum threshold of $7 in an attempt to manipulate the company’s in-app payment algorithm.

Food delivery platforms like DoorDash have grown during the coronavirus pandemic as restrictions on dining at restaurants have made people turn to takeout instead. Drivers, or Dashers as they’re known, in turn, fire up DoorDash's mobile phone app and are paid for each trip they make picking up food from eateries and dropping it off to customers.

The fee for each job varies and is determined by a number of factors; there’s the base pay of the delivery task at hand that can fluctuate anywhere from $2 to over $10 depending on the time and distance it will take to complete the run, as well as the job’s “desirability." On top of that, there’s also tips paid by the customer and promotions.

Drivers realized they can boost the base pay by driving down the desirability. If they repeatedly decline trips in their area, the desirability value of those journeys decreases, and in turn DoorDash will try to make up for it by increasing the base pay. The idea behind the drivers' #DeclineNow campaign is that if enough of their fellow colleagues promise to reject low-paying jobs, all drivers will benefit, since the algorithm will compensate them better for their time. Every time they reject an order, it will be offered to someone else for more money, and after time, these jobs start to offer a more acceptable level of pay.

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Dave Levy and Nikos Kanelopoulos launched the campaign in a private Facebook group in 2019, and it has grown to tens of thousands of members, Bloomberg reports. Dashers are advised to decline all jobs that pay less than $7 to maintain pay levels.

Another driver, Amy Lee, said that a worker who only accepted jobs that were at least $6 or paid about $1.35 for every mile could make an average of at least $20 every hour if they worked for eight and a half hours. For comparison, a driver who accepted every job offered over the same amount of time would make several dollars less, depending on the cost per mile.

Old code flaw

Before accepting a gig, drivers see how much the order will pay them, though the customer tip, if paid beforehand, isn't broken out.

Dashers, however, have figured a trick to see the full tip they’re being offered by downloading an older 5.68.1 version of the app on an Android-powered phone. Next, they have to disable Google Play app store, sign into the app, and then go back and enable Google Play. A widget on their home screen will then reveal the total amount of a particular job with the full amount of tips, according to Vice. This means Dashers can decline orders with miserly tips.

Leveraging DoorDash’s payment algorithm, however, depends on the collective effort of local drivers. These tactics also might not work as well where there just aren’t that many jobs going around. Although Lee supports the idea that drivers should be picky about what jobs they choose to accept, she believes that trying to manipulate software is only a short-term solution to pay.

“They believe that if everyone declines by their rules, it will 'force' the algorithm up and everyone will automatically be paid more money,” she wrote on a website describing the #DeclineNow movement. “Umm… Algorithms are likely changing a little at a time, daily. Maybe multiple times a day. DoorDash can LITERALLY change the algorithm on a whim so thinking you can force a $16+ billion company to pay you more is naive.”

Instead, in an open letter to DoorDash she urged the company to increase the base pay for all deliveries above its $2 to $3 minimum. The Register has asked Lee for further comment.

DoorDash obviously disapproves of the tactics behind the campaign. “Declining orders repeatedly can lead to increased wait times for customers and for Dasher, which can lead to lower earnings for Dashers over time and negative experiences for customers,” a spokesperson told El Reg. “We are proud of the flexible earning opportunity DoorDash provides and always welcome feedback from Dashers on ways we can better serve them."

The company also claimed that on average drivers earn over $22 per hour on deliveries in the US. “DoorDash is committed to providing fair and equitable earning opportunities for all Dashers. We work hard to ensure Dashers are active and earning on our platform, and know that on average nationally, Dashers earn over $22 per hour they’re on a delivery. When placing an order, customers select their tip amount.”

"Before accepting or declining an order, Dashers see a guaranteed, minimum amount they will earn, and after they complete an order, they see the full pay breakdown for that delivery in their app, including base pay, promotions, and 100 per cent of their tips.

"This helps ensure that Dashers who rely on DoorDash for consistent earnings have an equal chance at high value deliveries. This also provides all Dashers with full transparency into their earnings." ®

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