Fake GPS: Uber’s Deactivation Rampage [+ Clever Solution]

In today’s Opinion piece, frequent guest contributor Jonathan, founder of Uberdriverdiaries.com, sheds light into the world of using a Fake GPS when driving for Uber. His experience gives insight into some of the clever tactics Uber drivers are using that most rideshare blogs don’t normally cover. Once Uber cracked down on Fake GPS, a new solution emerged that earn drivers thousands of dollars.

Can you guess what all these phones are doing in the back of this SUV?

This would indeed be a strange sight to anyone not familiar with Uber!  Nineteen phones in the back of an SUV?  What in the world is going on? Is this guy trying to sell stolen phones or what?

If you take a closer look, you’ll see all the screens are turned on – and that’s one big clue!  You’ll also see there is what looks like a GPS program running on all the screens.  That’s another clue.  But, if you look closer at the program that’s running, you’ll see a little round black dot near the top center of the screen.  That’s another big clue!

That’s the Uber driver app that’s running. But why in the world would a guy have 19 phones with the Uber driver app running, laid out in such an organized way in the back of his SUV?

If you’re able to enlarge the image and if you know your airport geography well, you will recognize that the map on all these phones is set to the same location – and that location is – JFK Airport.  That is your final and biggest clue!


Uber’s Deactivation Rampage

Sometime between late 2016 and mid-2017, Uber went on a deactivation rampage.  At least they did in the New York City area.  Thousands of drivers, including myself, received warnings in the Uber app about using Fake GPS programs on our phones and tablets.  Hundreds, if not thousands of other drivers received other warnings on a wide variety of infractions.  All-in-all, we estimate that Uber has deactivated several thousand New York City drivers in the last eight to ten months.  The reasons for deactivation range from using Fake GPS to high cancellation rates to fraudulent activities.

I’ve heard the stories of many drivers who were deactivated.  They’re sad stories… from the driver’s point of view!  And to hear the driver tell the story, he’s always innocent.  But, when you get the real story, it turns out there was always something the driver wasn’t telling you.

Uber has reached a point where they have far more drivers than they need and it seems that the weeding process has begun.  With a surplus of drivers, they can afford to weed out the worst ones and keep the best.

One of the most prominent reasons drivers have been deactivated in New York recently is the use of Fake GPS.

I had never understood how or why people would use Fake GPS, but earlier this year, one of my driving buddies talked me into trying it out.  He said, it was “fun”!  And he was right – it was indeed fun!  And addictive.  It started as an experiment to see what it was all about and how it worked.  I really had no intention of using it for real driving.  But, it wasn’t long after learning how it worked, that I couldn’t resist the temptation to try it out for real.

In New York, all three airports, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark are legal for Uber.  And when an airport becomes legal for Uber, they establish an electronic queue.  The first driver in will be the first driver out.  I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in New York before all the guys caught onto Fake GPS, the airport queues would normally have between 20-50 drivers in them.  A 50-car queue would usually take two hours to work your way through.  A 20-car queue would be less than an hour and usually well worth the wait.

But after Fake GPS caught on, these queues have skyrocketed and are nearly always over 100.  Earlier today, when I was looking at JFK, the queue was 160 cars!  That’s insane!  And if not for Fake GPS, there would be absolutely no reason why a sane driver would add himself to a 160-car queue that could quite literally take more than 24 hours to work your way through.

The problem for the Fake GPS guys though was that Uber was catching on.

My Experience

In case you’re not aware, these are Fake GPS apps you can install on your phone or tablet that allow you to fake your location and make it appear as if your device is somewhere where it isn’t.

I had tried one of these apps a year earlier and after installing it, the minute I tried to sign into the Uber driver app an alert popped up on my screen informing me that they had detected I was using a Fake GPS app and it wouldn’t let me logon.  Oops!  I got caught – on my first try!  I didn’t try again until this year when my buddy told me he had figured out a way to do it that they couldn’t detect.

I followed his instructions and it seemed to work.  I was able to login to Uber without any warning messages.  Success!  Or, so I thought.  I did have some lingering doubt, because in order to run any of the Fake GPS programs, at least on Android devices, you have to go into settings and select a setting that would indicate to apps that you are using a Fake GPS program.

Another worry arose when I would change my location from one place to another.  The Uber app would see me at Newark Airport one second and JFK Airport the very next!  Surely, they must suspect something when they see you taking a 90-minute trip in a split second!

In the end, they did catch up with me and they caught up with thousands of other New York drivers at the same time.  They sent a warning message to us through the app.

And I will give you a piece of advice here.  If you ever get a warning message through the app – stop doing whatever they’re warning you about.  If you don’t, the next thing they’ll do is send you a text or email.  Once you get that, you are very close to deactivation.  If you do it one more time after you’ve received a text or email – you will be instantly deactivated.  When I got the warning to stop using Fake GPS, not only did I stop using it, but I completely uninstalled it from all my devices.  I didn’t want them to have even a hint of a reason to think I was still using it.

The drivers who didn’t stop using it, were deactivated shortly afterwards.  And we estimate there were hundreds at least of drivers deactivated for that reason.

The drivers who did stop using it, found it very difficult to go back to playing by the rules.  It’s totally understandable why they found it so hard to give up.  It was very helpful to me even if I never used it to place myself in an airport queue.

I live in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City.  New Jersey is considered a separate operating area and for Uber, no two jurisdictions shall ever have any access to the other.  Which means, although I’m licensed to drive for Uber in both New Jersey and New York, when I’m in New Jersey, I can’t see any information on the map from New York.  In other words, I can’t see surges and promotions in New York.  And likewise, when I’m in New York, I can’t see surges and promotions in New Jersey.

When I was using Fake GPS, there were so many mornings when I would wake up in New Jersey, and place myself, with Fake GPS, in New York, open the driver app and discover there were huge surges going on just across the river!  I would then head over there as quickly as I could.  But without the Fake GPS, I’m totally blind to all that information.  I’m also blind to how many cars are in the airport queues because Uber will only show you the airport queue number if you’re relatively close to the airport.  With FakeGPS, I could place myself at all three airports in under a minute, view the queues and decide how to best plan my day.

There was of course, that main advantage of being able to place myself in the airport queue even when I was nowhere near the airport.  With average wait times ranging from two to six hours, I would sometimes place myself in the Newark Airport queue at midnight and then I would go to bed!  I knew from experience you would be at least six to eight hours in the queue before you would get a ping – but what’s six or eight hours when you’re sleeping, at home, comfortably in your own bed!

I experimented with that a few times, but it became clear pretty quickly, that it wasn’t really a workable system.  I’d have to be at the airport by 6:00 a.m. in case a ping came in earlier than expected.  But almost every time I did this, I wouldn’t get a call until around 10:00 a.m.  So, I still wasted four hours just sitting in the airport parking lot.

Then, I experimented with LaGuardia.  At night time LaGuardia’s queue moved pretty quickly, and with the light nighttime traffic, you could do a lot of trips in a short period of time.  Most trips were to Manhattan which at the Black car rate would earn me around $50.  If I could do four of those in five or six hours, then I wasn’t doing too bad!  And the only way to do that many trips was to use the Fake GPS.  I would pick up a passenger at LGA, drive them to their destination and the minute I dropped them off, I would activate the Fake GPS, place myself back in the LGA queue and head directly to the airport.  Sometimes if there were a lot of cars in the queue and I could see it was going to be a while, I’d stop somewhere and get something to eat.

If it took me an hour to get back to LaGuardia and I had to wait another hour for a trip, I felt like everything was going well.  I just cut a two-hour wait in half!  That’s why it was so hard for the drivers who got the warning messages to give up on Fake GPS.

The Solution

Being the resourceful people they are, it didn’t take them long to figure out a solution though.  And that’s what the photo at the top is all about!  That’s their solution.  They went low-tech!

Some enterprising young driver would camp out in one of the airport queue lots and go around and tell drivers he would hold their phone for them and they could leave and do whatever they wanted.  Then, when they get to a certain low number in the queue, he will notify them to get back to the airport as their number is almost up.

Oh, and you might be wondering, why they would bother doing this – because if their phones are tied up in the back of this guy’s SUV, they can’t get any other trips – so what’s the point?

Well, the point is that each of these drivers has another phone or tablet and while they place this one in the airport queue, they then leave the airport, turn on their other device and login to Lyft or Juno and get in a bunch of trips while they’re simultaneously rising to the top of the airport queue!  It saves them from wasting time.  And at the low rates we’re all getting paid now, people have to look for an edge.

The guy who holds the phones charges $50 a week or $10 a day to hold drivers’ phones.  So the guy who is holding the phones in the photo, has earned $950just on that batch of phones.  He’ll get another two or three batches during the day.

He’s probably earning $600 – $1,000 a day doing this.  It sure beats driving!  And I don’t see that it’s breaking any law – so it’s not illegal to my knowledge.  (Although New York would surely pass a law against it if they ever find out about it).  But it does violate Uber’s Terms of Service.

Although I understand the motivations drivers have to do this, the problem is that it introduces a corruption into the system.  And like all corruptions, it’s hugely unfair to the drivers who play by the rules and who actually wait at the airport.  For every driver who waits at the airport, there may be 10, 20 or maybe even 50 guys who are ahead of them in the queue but who aren’t actually there.  They’re off running around, making money on another platform while the guys playing by the rules are waiting two and three times longer than they should for an airport ping.  If all the Fake GPS guys were booted out, the wait time for the guys who are really there would drop dramatically.

Uber seems to be trying hard to eliminate this problem, as their mass deactivations made clear this year, and I applaud them for that.  But now they’re going to have to go low-tech and find these airport SUVs with their luggage areas full of phones.  Or better still, they could build a rule into the driver app that would only permit it to run on the phone that has the phone number registered to the driver’s Uber account.

Have you seen any clever tricks like this work for drivers in your area? Are you willing to bend the rules to make more money driving? Let us know in the comments below!

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