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Is Uber's taxi map full of fake cabbies?

You know all those little car icons you see when you open up your Uber app? All those little cabs in close proximity, just waiting to pick you up?

Well, they might be fake. Researchers from think-tank Data & Society said the cars shown to be very close to you could be fake, but the arrival times are still accurate.

According to LBC (opens in new tab), employees of think-tank Data & Society wrote: "The presence of those virtual cars on the passenger's screen does not necessarily reflect an accurate number of drivers who are physically present or their precise locations.“

Why would Uber do such a thing in the first place? Apparently so you could better visualise how close the cars really are.

"Instead, these phantom cars are part of a 'visual effect' that Uber uses to emphasise the proximity of drivers to passengers. Not surprisingly, the visual effect shows cars nearby, even when they might not actually exist."

Uber claims that it aims to be as accurate as possible, LBC says, although it's not always technically possible, while it also wants to protect the safety of the drivers by not revealing their location until a taxi is booked.

A UK spokesman for Uber told Independent (opens in new tab): “This is simply not true. The cars you see in the app are the cars on the road.”

Alex Rosenblat, a New York-based data researcher who studied how Uber drivers interact with the Uber app, alleges that Uber customers are manipulated by the symbols on their screens, Independent says.

“If a potential passenger opened up the app and saw no cars around, she might take another cab service. But if she saw a cluster of cars seemingly milling around on the same street, she’s more likely to request a ride,” wrote Mr Rosenblat, whose research – funded by Microsoft – is published on Vice magazine’s Motherboard blog.

"What the passenger app shows can be deceptive,” writes Mr Rosenblat, who found that Uber drivers “across multiple forums discuss the fake cars they see on their own residential streets”.

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.