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A Tiny Tweak to Zomato’s Algorithm Led to Lost Delivery Riders, Stolen Bikes and Missed Wages

Originally published in Rest of World, Oct 7, 2021

The Indian food delivery giant changed riders’ beats without warning, crashing their earnings and exposing some to crime.

On September 30, around 60 delivery riders wearing the red uniform of Zomato gathered on the sidewalk in Jeevan Bima Nagar, one of central Bengaluru’s busiest streets. As traffic whizzed by, riders formed a human chain and chanted: “Zomato haye haye!” — roughly: “Down with Zomato!”

On the night of September 26, without warning, the delivery platform had tweaked its algorithm to extend the riders’ delivery zones. Riders are usually assigned jobs within a prescribed area, normally around 10 kilometers. But all of a sudden, they found themselves being sent to pickups and drop-offs up to 40 kilometers away.

The change, riders told Rest of World, has meant that some found it impossible to meet their daily quotas for deliveries, meaning they lost out on the incentives they need to make a living wage on the platform. Several alleged that the new delivery radiuses mean they’ve had to travel to unfamiliar places on the outskirts of the city, resulting in a surge of thefts of their phones and vehicles.

Zomato did not respond to requests for comment.

The incident demonstrates how a small change to a platform company’s algorithm can cascade into real harms for the drivers who rely on it. Drivers say they increasingly feel beholden to unilateral decisions made by the platforms, which penalize them for not complying with policy changes, but offer them no opportunities for feedback or redress.

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