A few weeks ago I ordered a cab through an app to get me back to my hotel from a visit at a friend's house in London. Two peculiar things happened at this moment. First, the driver pretended to pick me up and then completed the ride immediately, so they could get the minimum £4 tariff — I will not deal with this right now. Next, the app charged me an additional £15 “technology fee” — that is what I want to talk about.
Being charged extra because I used an algorithm, made me think; what is the role of software in our world and why do we build it?
Money is not an adequate answer, as it’s valid for all sorts of industries. Also, the current flourishing status of the software industry does not make the cut either, as this has happened with other industries and is likely to saturate at some point. We are looking for something more universal and timeless.
This app missed the point. Charging a customer a fee, more than triple the amount of the actual service, is way too counter intuitive and more importantly; does not feel like the app is at my service. Actually, it felt the other way around; I was at the service of a poor business. It happens also that I am technical enough to know that even the most advanced cloud instance tailored for machine learning does not even approach this cost for the 60 seconds it took it to find my cab. Unless I am missing something terribly important, that was all profit margin on the customer’s expense. This is not right and it is not the way it is supposed to be.
I think software should be paid, and be paid well, to support its staff, infrastructure and longevity. Software does not exist though to provide organisations with shallow opportunities to exploit people’s pockets, like with these 15£. On the contrary, it should generate value, that was not accessible before, for all parties. Every once in a while, we need to take a step back and ask a few questions; Why are we building this? Is it serving its purpose? Is it at the service of the people that will use it?
I see that we have a fascinating opportunity with software. We can provide more jobs and more meaningful jobs, less costly products and services and even generate more profits. It can be an all-win game. Let’s not ruin this. Instead, let’s make this happen.
P.S.: Although not important, I asked for a refund because of the apparent fraud that took place in this transaction and the full amount got reimbursed quickly. They deserve congratulations for the great customer support, but this does not alter the fact that this “technology fee” should never exist in the first place.