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Instacart and DoorDash’s Tip Policies Are Delivering Outrage (nytimes.com)
344 points by tysone 44 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 365 comments

I've never used Instacart, but I've used GrubHub and DoorDash and the like a couple of times -- I can never remember which one I have an account for, or which one has the restaurant I want, so it's always a hodgepodge.

But one thing is clear as day. When I use DoorDash, the tip box says "100% of tip goes to Dasher".

Look, I know all of these places either charge me a service fee, or if I'm not being charged a service fee, they're marking up the food over list price AND getting a discount from the restaurant for the extra volume generated by the company. FINE.

But when you tell me 100% of my tip goes to the tippee and then you take money out of their pay because I tipped them, that is fraud. Money is a fungible good. It doesn't matter that "my" money went to the Dasher, and you took "your" money from them. In fact, that's not even true, because it's all in one CC transaction anyway. 100% of my tip did NOT go to the Dasher.

I quit tipping on DD as soon as I found this out about a month ago because it'd almost always be less than $4.50, so wouldn't affect the dasher's bottom line anyway. If I start again it'll be cash, but I don't typically carry that in small bills.

But I'm pissed. I've been a heavy DD customer for years and I'm an excellent tipper. Apparently I've been offsetting DD's costs for quite awhile now thinking "100% goes to Dasher." Bad enough that I have to tip in advance of the service--Uber Eats does this right--but they've been stealing those tips the whole time on top of their "service charge" and "delivery fee". I'd love to see them burn.

It doesn't take a class action--last I saw comparative stats they were only doing well in the Bay Area, San Jose specifically, and were rock bottom of the market share elsewhere. We probably just need one educated market to trash this strategy.

I'm in the exact same boat as you. I've been a huge customer of DD's for years and only recently found this out after being confronted by Dashers who thought I'd lowballed them. I tweeted at DoorDash multiple times, and while I usually get some response from them this time it was radio silence. I'm livid.

I did, however, hear from a Dasher who was more than happy to clue me in on the policy[0]. From now on, I no longer tip inside the app and let the Dasher know I'll be tipping them in cash at the door. It's a pain for me, but I feel better knowing 100% of my tip actually went to them like it was supposed to.

[0]: https://twitter.com/iampbt/status/1089767531412213763

Isn't this typically the job of an Attorney General?


Saying inflammatory shit and then couching it in "just a joke" doesn't suddenly give you the comedian's context.

You quit tipping, but you haven't stopped using the service?

Your point is valid, really, and it's something I'm struggling with ethically. The problem is the other services in San Jose are by and large much worse in every other way (unless you really want pizza) and I do rely on deliveries for my current schedule. At what point is the right answer to sacrifice your own needs in order to boycott?

So right now I'm making DD pay as much as possible for each delivery to me, which is the point where I at least retain a bit of self-respect. My hope is this gets "corrected" before I have to quit the service, but if that becomes the only real choice it's what I'll do.

As far as the tipping, I do need to get an envelope of small bills going to meet my own standards there, but at least I haven't hurt the Dashers worse. The moment the 20% tip would be enough to raise their payout (DD guarantees a minimum of $1 from their own pockets, so that's $4.51+) I've tipped it regardless of the offset. They're victims in this.

But regardless of any perceived hypocrisy you may have on my part, DD is a bad actor here. Gig economy has always had the strong potential to exploit the "contractors," but this actualizes that potential in a big way. Even the sub-min-wage base+tips model for service employees isn't this egregious.

They quit tipping through the service, and, if I'm reading correctly, instead zero the tip at checkout, and tip in cash on arrival.

I think he means he can't be that outraged if he's still using them.

He's outraged by this specific issue and found a workaround. You can be upset by a specific company policy yet still find it better than the alternatives

One reaction to discovering that a company you do business with has been exploiting you or its workers is to come up with a strategy for exploiting the company back (within the bounds of the law), ideally without hurting the individual employees.

Just curious : why tipping in cash when they are numerous apps to send and receive money between "friends" (ala PayPal) ?

(By the way, how long before we can tip people on WhatsApp?)

So tip them in person, like the pizza guy

In other news, 100% of lottery taxes go to the school system. Strange that we don't see the same outrage for the same shady tricks practiced elsewhere.

Regardless of your feelings on this specific issue, it’s fair to say we can have two problems at once, and one doesn’t diminish the other.

I don’t think the government should be in the lottery business.

The argument in favor of this generally goes: if there wasn't a government lottery, there would be privately-run lotteries, and attempts to ban lotteries would just push them into the hands of organized crime. At least a government-run lottery will publish honest odds and pay out to winners, which private/criminal lotteries would less reliably do, and that minimizes the harm done by the lottery.

You can apply basically this argument to similar things which the government doesn't do and people typically don't support (like running casinos or selling drugs), though.

They do sell drugs in Canada now, and it seems to be going quite well, actually. Maybe there's a case to be made after all, although, personally, I prefer the Portuguese model of decriminalizing everything.

I tried DoorDash out for the first time recently. Gave a generous tip because the driver had to wait a while as the food took way longer to prepare. Then I started reading about DoorDash and discovered what you mentioned about tips.

Immediately uninstalled, will never use them again. That is downright criminal what they're doing. Made sure to let all my friends know about that too.

Has anyone tried treating these transactions as actually fraudulent, and asking their credit card company to investigate and reverse the charges? I've heard the card companies will sometimes be pretty aggressive on the cardholders' behalf. That said, this would probably get your account banned from whatever service you try it on.

From my experience they aren't necessarily always on your side, but for a small enough transaction they may not care. They don't investigate aggressively, rather they put the burden on doordash to prove all these small charges.

That being said, technically it's not allowed as you authorized the charges and maybe didn't get 100% of what you were advertised, but I'm not sure you can get a refund for that.

>didn't get 100% of what you were advertised, but I'm not sure you can get a refund for that.

You can definitely get a refund for that. Realistically, DD will just refund the charges and then ban your account. Cheaper than fighting over a $15 tip, especially when disputes cost them whether they win or lose.

Disputes cost them maybe $15-$30 but then they can automate the response so there's no loss. Also, the dispute fees are charged regardless of if they choose to fight it, so they have no reason to unless they simply haven't automated responses.

While you can almost always get a refund for any small charge if you dispute it, it doesn't mean it's technically allowed by the terms, or as part of mandated laws. Laws around this generally only say the credit card company has to investigate your claims, but what they do, if anything, or how hard they "investigate" is not enforced. In practice instead of actually investigating a small $15 charge they'll just refund you.

Given a large enough charge, they will definitely not refund you unless it's like a 100% indisputable billing error case (like you send an invoice you received saying $100 but the statement charge shows something else).

Disputing charges comes with its cost though. I disputed something for the first time last month, and my credit score dropped by 30 points. Seems like disputes are considered a red flag until resolved (I am hoping, will have to see if it goes back up).

This is a good point and likely going to result in a massive class action that a few of these companies don't survive.

At least in the case of DoorDash, they have an arbitration clause in their TOS that effectively quashes any attempts at a class action.

Hopefully one day the US justice system will wake up to the fact that allowing companies to opt-out of the main mechanism preventing them from engaging in this sort of petty-crime-at-scale is not a good idea, but until then it's what we're stuck with.

State attorneys general are not bound by these TOSs.

I wonder if giving someone my credit card, having them add to DoorDash, then suing would be worth it.

I wonder if small claims court lawsuits could be used as precedent.

You can individually opt out of the arbitration clause, the problem is finding a critical mass of other people who opted out within the opt-out period.

The Department of Labor didn't sign no arbitration agreement with DoorDash, and they get a raging hard-on for wage-theft cases. Management stealing tips, where people who didn't do the work but receive a portion (or more) of the tips are slam-dunk cases for them.

Not unless we add another slot to the Supreme Court.

DoorDash has a mandatory arbitration clause (that I opted out of but most people don’t) so I fear the best we can hope for is a light tap from a state AG and a flimsy promise to “review our internal procedures” with no big change. It isn’t as though large numbers of people will stop using these services that deliberately abuse their “independent contractor” workers.

How do you arbitrarily opt out of mandatory arbitration clauses?

Per https://www.doordash.com/terms/#section12 you have to send them an email with your account info within 30 days of signing up:

> (f) Opt Out. You may opt out of this Arbitration Agreement. If you do so, neither you nor the Company can force the other to arbitrate as a result of this Agreement. To opt out, you must notify the Company in writing no later than 30 days after first becoming subject to this Arbitration Agreement. Your notice must include your name and address, your DoorDash username (if any), the email address you used to set up your DoorDash account (if you have one), and a CLEAR statement that you want to opt out of this Arbitration Agreement. You must send your opt-out notice to: opt-out@doordash.com. If you opt out of this Arbitration Agreement, all other parts of this Agreement will continue to apply to you.

Free idea: browser extension that lights up when you visit a site with an arbitration clause and tells you how to opt out.

Bonus points, look for any opportunity to opt out at all. I get the feeling "sane defaults" are not the norm in terms of service.

Nice one. Will save that to when I have time.

Well, the easiest way is to just not use the service...

They'll survive it. The pendulum has swung far toward corporations and awards don't tend to be death sentences these days.

What other company has been killed by a lawsuit lately, other than thorough frauds like for-profit colleges?

Well, there's Gawker, but that's also a special case.


I grew up in Asia, and never quite understood the tipping culture. Because employers aren't paying their staff a living wage, they ask their customers to tip. It all seems completely backwards to me.

These scumbag startups are taking it 1 step further by taking the tips away.

If you can't afford to pay your staff a living wage, your business shouldn't exist.

This. Agreed 100%. Don’t say one thing and do another sneaky thing. That should result in such entity losing the trust of its clients.

They deserve the backlash they get. One would hope they get fined as well.

But isn't this exactly what happens when a charity allows you to specify how your donation gets used, or when a government calls for vote on a new tax that will benefit only X (e.g. education)?

I don't have any proof. But I have always assumed that this is the case. I hope I'm wrong. But I don't see why a charity or a government wouldn't do this.

If the dashers need to be upped to minimum wage, it is probably true that your tip is going towards them, but it affects how much money they get from doordash

Aren't they paid via 1099 (contractor basis) and thus minimum wage is meaningless anyway?

Insane. Since the courts seem to agree that "gig" workers are contractors, it seems like we need a new labor movement to secure all the same benefits for contractors that employees get.

Perhaps a nice clear line we could draw would be individuals who are treated as 1099s. This way, companies could still use it and pay their own taxes, while defacto employees would be treated similarly to W-2s.

To play devil's advocate, this is actually standard practice with tipped employees like waiters and waitresses. They are often paid a lower base wage because it is expected they make some of it back on tips. Tips have always been essentially a variable part of the worker's salary controlled by the customer. It's why in America it's considered basically unacceptable to not tip even though it's "optional."

It's not quite that - in places with a lower "tipped minimum wage," the employer only gets to pay the lower hourly rate if the employee doesn't earn the standard minimum wage from tips.

The employee is supposed to report their tips, usually per pay period, and if it adds up to less than minimum wage, the employer is supposed to make up the difference.

Doesn't work out like that in practice, though. My wife waited tables for years when she was young and most of those places just paid enough to show $0.00 on the paycheck after payroll/SS taxes and the like. It also works out to be essentially what Instacart and DD are doing, but with a federal/state mandated "floor" on how low they can pull the hourly from the tips.

Employer still benefits from this though, in both cases. So if the tips DO add up to more than minimum wage the employer is the one who is saving the money from the extra tips.

Waiters and waitresses don’t use their own vehicle amd gas to bring me my food, though.

That's not really part of this problem though, as even if they were compensated for gas and insurance for the car, this still applies.

Fundamentally, people are outraged because essentially tipping is subsidizing the wages the employer should be paying, and that's the case even with a restaurant.

The issue is the tipping system. It's counterintuitive but your "generosity" with a tip, once it becomes standard cultural practice, ends up in one way or another getting nullified by the employer. And there's no real way to prevent this as the OP said, money is fungible, so if the employee gets paid more in some way it all just becomes their total earnings in the end, which saves the employer from having to make up that difference because the market price for the employee's time and labor is fixed.

There is absolutely way to prevent this. We could enact laws to clarify that tips are between the customer and the employee and have no effect on the company's legal obligation to pay minimum wage. That is how the law actually is written in a number of states.

Or enact a law that bans tipping. There are plenty of societies that ban tipping, including places that are more advanced than the US like Japan. Not to mention tipping is another surface area for potential money laundering and tax evasion.

In a restaurant it’s not per transaction so it’s not directly rendering your generosity ineffectual. It’s a matter of degree and convention but not insignificant.

I don’t think it’s fraud. Your money went to the driver, instead of DoorDash’s money. This is exactly how restaurant tipping works in much of the US. As usual, if you want the person you are tipping to keep the money you are giving them in addition to their minimum wage, better tip in cash.

I can't even count the number of people I meet that think waiters (in the state I most recently lived in) get paid less than minimum wage if they don't tip, when that's just not in compliance with the law. You raise a good point, anyway, because this happens all the time in restaurants in addition to DoorDash.

>when that's just not in compliance with the law

The law doesn't magically make it happen without enforcement. People think that waiters get paid less than minimum wage because they've never met a restaurant where a boss actually follows the law and pays out minimum wage if the tips don't cover it

Source? This seems like a pretty clear-cut lawsuit waiting to happen. I'm aware that not everyone can afford to take on legal action, but I'm skeptical that it's widespread.


"From this article, The Department of Labor’s wage and hour division estimated that nearly 84 percent of full-service restaurants it investigated between 2010 and 2012 had violated labor standards, including but not limited to tip violations."

There isn't really anything like a clear-cut lawsuit when you don't have the money to retain a lawyer, and when the award youd get from winning isnt enough to entice a lawyer to take your case on contingency

This is a great example in my opinion of the apathy we need to combat as technologists.

Why did NO ONE in any meetings when designing this "feature" or process say anything?

"This is wrong/greedy/will have blowback."

No one voiced concerns? Or, more specifically, if they did, no one listened? They didn't think this would leak out, with all the hatred regarding wage stagnation, income inequality, corporate greed?

A marketing pro, PR specialist, or frankly anyone in touch with culture and human beings would have throw up a flare that this is a terrible idea.

What is going on with culture at these companies?

I have spoke up in similar situations several times at a number of companies. Not once was what I said a revelation or surprise. The business people knew already what the possible results would be. They had assessed it and decided to move on regardless. Clearly the potential results were worth the risk in their assessment.

I have learned that my code of ethics are just not the same as a number of business persons'. This may explain, in part, why I have two failed businesses.

Unfortunately, we reward bad behavior by not having the hammer be swung down hard and fast.

Look at the ridesharing companies, all of them started by defying local laws. Couple of people get assaulted here and there, doesn't matter as long as Silicon Valley gets it's money.

The hammer swings down fast in some cases. Look at Robin Hood's checking account debacle. The SEC, FDIC and SPIC do not play around.

The problem is where regulations are enforced. At state level results may vary. At local level very few jurisdictions can out-battle a company with millions or billions in VC funding. Uber blocked local regulators in Portland from blocking rides: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uber-portland/portland-pr...

At some point, it becomes impossible to argue that taxi regulations were actually benefiting the public. Civil disobedience is a valid option in such cases, whether your name is Travis Kalanick or Rosa Parks.

Uber and Lyft are hardly Rosa Parks. They mostly use their size to bully around smaller localities that can’t handle the pressure.

If they truly believed that taxi regulations were onerous they’d fight them wherever they exist. Uber and Lyft left Austin in protest because they felt a fingerprinting requirement was too onerous, and they didn’t come back until Texas overruled them; but they already comply with such a regulation in New York! And this is before we get into their other controversies, like Uber India obtaining a customer’s medical report after she got raped in one of their cars.

Uber and Lyft are hardly Rosa Parks. They mostly use their size to bully around smaller localities that can’t handle the pressure.

Which would never have worked if customers were satisfied with existing solutions.

If they truly believed that taxi regulations were onerous they’d fight them wherever they exist

It can take decades to correct the law if you insist on playing by its own rules, especially given the historical corruption associated with taxi regulation. As Americans, we have a cultural responsibility to resist unjust laws... and at least IMHO, taxi regulations fall squarely into that category.

And riders get their cheap rides. Why are we not blaming the customers who can simply choose an alternative even if it's less convenient. We don't need Uber or Lyft or Instacart or Door dash. Why are these companies even in business after breaking laws repeatedly and with impunity? May be there lies the answer. If customers don't care enough to put a dent why would the business people care about it?

The customers don't have perfect information of a company's full behavior and dealings. Fully checking every company you ever interact with would be exhausting and nonproductive - so people rely on news and word of mouth, but even then the information doesn't reach every potential customer.

Companies that facilitate business checking, have their own problems too. E.g. yelp, BBB, et al.

These infractions have been in the news forever though. I agree with you but this is not either or. Yes, the business decisions have to be better but when there's no blowback - nothing material at least - why would we think the behavior will change?

I've spoken up and actually had decisions reversed (or at least dropped), but I did so with hard data that the "better" (ethically) decision didn't materially hurt the bottom line, or that there were other actions we could take that would win back any lost revenue.

I've never known a company to make the ethical call when doing so materially hurts their earnings. To do so (and have it made public) would invite a shareholder lawsuit, so even if they did, they'd always couch it in language around long-term profitability or retaining employees. (Like Google did when they pulled out of China the first time, or when they repriced options for all their employees in 2009.) If you want companies to do the right thing, figure out how to become powerful enough that you can hold a metaphorical gun to their heads; their is no such thing as a "right thing" in business beyond that.

> Why did NO ONE in any meetings when designing this "feature" or process say anything?

Who's to say someone didn't? All we know is they decided to steal tips, not that everyone thought it was a great idea.

I would believe that someone did/has. If you look at things like Project Maven at Google people did speak out, or the Chinese search engine. Speaking out doesn't help if you're not in a position to modify the plan though. I've been in both places, both where I could keep a bad idea from going through and times when I could only share my concerns.

For me, it was situations like this that gave me the motivation to get better at pitching (and shooting down) ideas. Using the tip fiasco as an example, you can argue it at the social justice level which will be ignored by the Chief Product Officer because they don't care about social justice, so for them you argue it at the product angle,

"This policy/product is going to stain our product and make us look like greedy chumps, look at how our competitors product idea to do <x> resulted in so much bad publicity they had to pay <y>, which totally negated any value to the company. Do you want to be the guy that costs this company that money? Are you ready to be out on the street looking for a job where your last idea turned out to be reviled by press? It will be you because the CEO certainly isn't going to take the blame for it, they are going to fire you and say 'See? We thought it was horrible too and we fired the person responsible.', and that is going to be you. Think about that before you move forward on this product idea, kthx bye."

That makes is personal to someone in a position to actually stop it from going out the door. If you can show them the risk in a way they will understand, then, and only then, do you get any traction in stopping it.

I totally agree with this, and I think this makes the point that social outrage can sometimes play a positive role.

In an ideal world, we could get people to act ethically because it's the right thing to do: if we can't do that, at least we can appeal to their self interest and point out how horribly this could backfire if people found out.

This is also literally the claim that libertarians use to justify deregulation. "We don't need laws, if a company does bad things consumer would just naturally avoid them!"

One would hope laissez-faire proponents are siding with the angry workers and disgusted customers in this case.

Consumers don't generally have sufficient information to avoid bad actors. Classic market theory, especially in its pop culture form, seems to largely ignore information imbalance -- market efficiency presumes buyers can make informed decisions, but sellers have no incentive to provide buyers with honest and complete information unless they believe doing so will result in a sale. Regulations that address this information imbalance arguably make markets more efficient, and I tend to be suspicious of any anti-regulation argument which takes the form of "compelling sellers to disclose information to consumers will raise prices and is therefore anti-consumer."

I wish I could upvote you twice, and I'm stealing your quoted paragraph as essentially a template for when these situations appear in future meetings.

I address that later in my comment...

Is this a function of schooling? MBA programs? Corporatism?

I mean ultimately it's the executives that call the shots. I've seen people stand up to executives over things like this and then they get fired and it's business as usual.

Most people aren't willing to risk their jobs over screwing over gig workers, especially when you feel powerless to actually stop it from happening. I mean it's so socially acceptable we've even coined the term "gig economy"

Chances are the people that really feel strongly about these things just refuse to work for those companies in the first place.

Most people aren't willing to risk their jobs over screwing over gig workers

Ironic that they may have ended doing long term damage to their careers as a result.

Did they? Can you name the people to blame? If someone shows up with Instacart on their resume, is it hard for them to act like they were either ignorant or against the decision?

I'd definitely discount applicants on that basis.

is it hard for them to act like they were either ignorant or against the decision?

No, but fooling me if I want to know is a different matter.

In what way? The vast majority of employers want cogs. They don't want rebels.

Hard to say exactly without being privy to their conversations, but the aggressive growth pressure that young companies with VC funding face almost always factors in somehow.

It's hard to truly expect companies to make the correct ethical decision in this scenario when the survival of founders is dependent on raising more and more money. The "grow now, profit later" model truly puts pressure on execs to take whatever they can. And in this case, they clearly thought either nobody would notice or care.

Who polices the VCs? It seems like they have no accountability, even financially speaking. If one investment fails they have nine more to reallocate towards, so to speak.

> Who polices the VCs?

Great question. They benefit tremendously by minimizing their own risk and maximizing the leverage they have over founders they invest in.

The market, obviously. If they invest in shit startups, then eventually they will lose all of their money.

Now the problem is, what if people still use something and give their money to even if that service/company is unethical?

Is it unethical to make very bad employment deals with people who have no better opportunities on the job market?

Well, now that's where again people come in. Some people say, no, because if they don't like the job, they can start their own company (ehm, ehm, maybe that's why we are here, too many people trying to start stupid companies built on almost stealing from each other). Some people say, fuck no, that's just a race to the bottom Somalia.

Some people pitch NIT (negative income tax, a form of universal basic income). Some full blown direct action style socialism/anarchism. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Technically LPs, but they're more-often-than-not large, faceless funds only interested in returns and mostly insulated from any blowback so moral considerations don't always concern them.

Its a function of money. The people who make the decisions (CEO, board) are judged on how much money the company makes. They are paid based on it. They keep their job only if they make more money.

Basically imagine you are an investor who spent $70 million on this company. That money could represent anything. Money can be used for anything so people can imagine it will all be used for altruistic purposes if they want. Sometimes a portion of it is. It can represent 50 or 500 or 5000 people who are counting on that money to grow.

The point being, it is very easy for a person in charge of a large sum of money to come up with a moral justification for maintaining or increasing that sum of money. The least of which is keeping their job or social standing -- but that one alone is usually enough for people to justify many things.

In this case, they will probably just say something like "well, its not our responsibility to make sure that people earn a good wage". In the end, the only thing they are really being held accountable for is how much money they make.

It's just greed, plain and simple. It doesn't have to be more complex than that.

The Excel models all look a lot nicer if you take the tips!

It is the ancient philosophy of nickel-and-diming employees in low-margin hospitality sector businesses.

I don't have access to the financials, but at no point has 'on demand food delivery' seemed to be anything other than a highly risky business servicing an extremely price-sensitive market.

As an MBA, I really take issue with this cynicism of MBA programs. It's not like we're cold greedy bastards. Stop generalizing. People can make great and terrible decisions, regardless of grad school degree choice.

Someone signed off on that feature that stole $4 from a $5 tip given to a person making minimum wage.

Was that person an MBA graduate or not?

Let's blame all males if that was their gender too!

I don't care about all that gender stuff.

The point is someone signed off on that. And in a business, it's usually someone with an MBA.

I can't imagine a business of that popularity having someone making business decisions without an MBA under their belt.

Hah. Well it's obviously a case where the consumer habit of tipping for delivery means that on a $100 order there may be $105 that the customer is willing to (or used to having to) pay. Thus leaving that $5 on the table is perhaps a stupid business decision. I should hope an MBA would point that out, so long as another MBA pointed out that the user experience may be more important than the few extra dollars.

An MBA would point out that in the this isn't a sustainable strategy, regardless of any concept of fairness.

Backlash from customers and workers is virtually guaranteed to hurt long-term profits.

Serious question: are ethics taught in MBA programs, and if so, how?

Generally speaking, how are MBA's taught to avoid making this very mistake?

Pardon my interruption, but I think a perfectly adequate response would be to counter by asking if ethics are taught in CS/CE programs (or what curricula have ethics prereqs)

Yes, ethics are a required component of the ABET CS model curriculum.

That's a model curriculum and has no mechanism for enforcment. I am not able to find more than a handful of CS degree programs with ethics prerequisites. Plenty of engineering schools offer compute ethics courses as electives, but then again, plenty of business schools offer business ethics electives in MBA programs.

> That's a model curriculum and has no mechanism for enforcment.

The mechanism for enforcement is ABET accreditation. When I was at Cal Poly SLO, our CS program was up for re-accreditation, and yes, we were required to take an ethics course, mostly due to remarks from prior accreditation reviews.


> I am not able to find more than a handful of CS degree programs with ethics prerequisites

ABET accreditation allows for ethics to be covered as part of other courses in the curriculum. IIRC, it requires at least 4 units worth coursework to focus on ethics. Schools are allowed to cover this as part of a software engineering capstone series, for example.

This has digressed a bit. Let's recap: someone asked if ethics were an MBA requirement. I responded by asking if it was CS/CE requirement. Then someone brought up the ABET model curriculum, and now here we are.

The general point is that it started with a altogether too common dig at MBAs. I think those are usually unwarranted without any further examination. But I also found some studies that indicate leadership in a corporation is neutral to positive on corporate social responsibility (didn't share it earlier, but here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25782028).

The ABET model curricula is admirable, but the ethics requirement is not overly stringent. And there are very prominent CS/CE programs that are not accredited (http://main.abet.org/aps/Accreditedprogramsearch.aspx, I won't name names, but they are top 10 schools, easily).

It would be great if every damn high school student had to take semester of secular ethics, let alone MBAs or Engineers. I could easily see any degree having a 1 or 2 credit hour course in profession specific ethics.

But to the original point, I just don't like people getting high and mighty over people with MBA degrees for no good reason (I don't have an MBA).

ps - and to bring it all the way back around, there were many, many people involved in this. UX design, backend development, PM, project management, testing... it's just lazy scapegoating to pin this on a hypothetical MBA pulling all the strings.

I agree that ethics should be taught in school, it's pretty universally applicable in the workforce.

However, I do disagree slightly with your point regarding the many people involved in this. While it's true that it takes several types of skills to build a product like Instacart, most companies don't give their engineers/designers the ability to push back against features that they're not comfortable building. You're paid to execute on a vision that's dictated higher up the food chain. That doesn't mean it's coming from an MBA per se, but just because an engineer wrote the code doesn't mean that they're culpable here, especially given our aversion to pushing back and whistle-blowing in corporate culture.

Speaking out against corrupt/unethical leadership can very easily cost you not just your job, but your career as well. This is one area I would love to see improvement in.

So you knew you were throwing off the conversation and then went at far to call the conversation as off topic?!

MBA's should have a stronger ethics focus, they are in places of influence in power that many don't attain.


Speaking for myself, though, that wasn't a course I felt I needed to take. But every professor certainly expects you to approach problems from an ethical perspective, just like in any other degree...

I think in this case the ethical issue is not disclosing the policy more directly. I suppose why would anyone tip $5 if the driver would only get $1.

My guess is that this isn't really an ethical issue with Instacart, which I view as a very well run company.

More likely, the model is a fairly cleverly designed tip jar that accepts tips and then brings up the average wage so that workers have a higher guaranteed minimum, in exchange for some tips not going directly toward their own pay.

This is a clever system, which likely derived from the optional "service fee" which Instacart used to incorporate, which was used to fund additional employee benefits.

The problem is that when you call it a "tip" then people expect it to work a specific way and so the underlying clever idea is lost and the company appears to have done something shady.

Look at the history of Instacart's explorations of a service fee and you'll see that what's going on. I think Instacart deserves credit for trying to find a better solution to this problem than what had existed before, though I think a smarter way to do it would be to let customers optionally contribute to the "bonus till" that is paid out companywide to customer-facing staff who have the best star ratings.

So you're suggesting that this is a dark pattern to direct users into thinking that they're leaving a tip when they're not?

If Instacart chooses to adopt a system that isn't universally understood and transparent to both shoppers and customers, the onus is on them to make sure that users of the app understand what's going on. If they fail to do so, they should be held responsible for it.

Seeing as how thousands of shoppers have organized and signed petitions about this "feature", a clear misunderstanding on the part of shoppers and customers exists here, which demands an explanation as to why Instacart would implement such a confusing, opaque tipping system in the first place.

How does that sound like a well-run company to you?

> My guess is that this isn't really an ethical issue with Instacart, which I view as a very well run company.

I can't agree with that. A well run company doesn't steal $4 from a $5 tip originally given to some poor person making minimum wage.

>More likely, the model is a fairly cleverly designed tip jar that accepts tips and then brings up the average wage so that workers have a higher guaranteed minimum, in exchange for some tips not going directly toward their own pay.

That doesn't make any sense. If the minimum wage is $1000. There are 10 workers and this month there is $1000 in the tip pool. Then the company won't pay out $1100. The company still takes the $1000.

If what you said was true then they wouldn't deduct from the wage. They would deduct from the tip and say that it's added to a tip pool.

In the US, "tip" has a legal meaning and tips are subject to specific rules.

Not sure if it's a required curriculum unit, but I audited some MBA courses and Leadership & Ethics was one of the available courses. It consisted largely of reviewing and discussions based on case studies and ethically complex scenarios.

We don't have corporatism (corporate crony capitalism, which is a bit redundant, but not corporatism which is a completely different thing; the corpora referred to in corporatism is the body formed by the whole of society, not each individual firm as a corporation.)

The argument, especially for low-margin businesses like these delivery startups, is that the company might go under if financial tricks aren't in place.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Might as well take the path of least embarrassment and hope no one calls out the tricks.

So maybe your business model is flawed? If you can't survive without robbing your employees then you shouldn't survive at all. This would easily be solvable by building growth organically, or having companies that hook into your service willingly to offer delivery at lower cost to them than hiring a full time employee. This would necessarily limit usefulness to larger population centers, but would make it more viable long term.

I'd have more sympathy if there were also giving equity to the people they are stealing from.

> Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Surely that should be "Business goes under if you don't, executives go to jail for mass fraud if you do."

I'm not a lawyer, but I do wonder what the legal threshold between "following ethics" and "fiduciary duty" is.

I think it is more, "Why does this keep happening?" and "What can we do to stop it?"

True, but once someone knows something illegal or deeply unethical is going down and sticks around, they can't complain about getting part of the blame for it.

> Why did NO ONE in any meetings when designing this "feature" or process say anything?

This is a really silly assumption. As a UI/UX designer, I have brought up many times at previous companies when they were trying to do sketchy/dark-patterns/etc. to users. At the end of the day, a lot of times, you get classified as someone who is not being a "team player", or are just being "negative." It sucks, but I can bet you that people there probably did speak up about this, but it got now where and they didn't want to risk their career over it. If you were in their shoes, would you quit your job over this if you spoke up and they still didn't listen? It's easy to answer that from the outside, but not everyone has the ability to do that. It's much more complicated.

I don't do crooked stuff, that started in primary school for me, and I don't envy the people who are obedient, they had some short-term gains, sure, but long-term they end up with nothing to say, nothing to do and to be. If one has to be crooked to not risk it, what kind of career is it in the first place?

> You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid... You refuse to do it because you want to live longer... You're afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you're afraid someone will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

> Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

That's a great speech but you would have to stand up to your boss, tell him he did something wrong, and then quit your job. So if you actually did that then I would buy your argument.

No, all I have to do is to never collude with and to call out crooked shit, which I did and do. It takes much less courage to never kiss the ring in the first place, than to "revolt" after already having kneeled. I don't care if you "buy" that.

In the one really shitty job I had for a short while, I simply didn't do the things I considered crooked. I didn't lie about that either, nor did I get fired for it. I was still better than most brownnosers there, and they were leaking people anyway. Once I told a coach that if the food he eats was prepared as careless as he just told me to do my job to make more money, he would be dead in a month. Hahaha. I did end up quitting after getting sick of the politics and exploitation there, but I didn't have to quit to not take part in crooked stuff, I simply did that by not taking part in it. I simply said "make me", and they didn't bother to try. "The barman reeled for a moment, hit by a shocking, incomprehensible sense of distance."

People who think everybody in the world is fake, broken and gave in, are proving only that they themselves are. If they weren't, they wouldn't assume everybody just "has" to accept all sorts of things. We have to die eventually, that's all anyone of us has to do. The rest are at best choices, at worst excuses.

The people in positions of power to make these sorts of decisions are almost never incentivized to do anything other than make the maximum possible amount of money for investors/shareholders. I've never heard of a corporate leadership structure that would, for example, reward the lowest executive/director on the totem pole individually for choosing to do something that has a good chance of limiting revenue from what is legally possible, but for empathetic/moral reasons around "caring about users."

And this isn't about some sort of explicit negative incentive against this sort of thing, it's just that the individual incentives to make more money are so much more tantalizing and rewarding. It's not about creating a non-zero incentive out of thin air around moral actions, it's about looking at the overall incentive structure and moving "user empathy" to a higher rung in the overall hierarchy, among things like reducing costs & increasing revenue. You could then argue with me over the appropriate place for "user empathy" in that overall hierarchy, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect mis-aligned incentive structures to produce many cases (always can be outliers...) of someone in a leadership position "doing the right thing" from a moral standpoint outside the numbers of the business.

I couldn't agree with this comment more. Outrage may solve these issues on a case by case basis, but it seems more prudent to focus on the larger systemic issue -- capitalistic incentives.

I'm on the IEEE P7010 Standards working group, which is part of the larger P7000 series that is focused on addressing ethical concerns when building software.[1]

As a body, we're going through painstaking effort to build a firm footing for how and why systems designers should build an ethics decision process into their workflow.

However I keep struggling to see why any software developer would care to follow our standards. They don't seem to generally follow any other standards, or even generally know they exist.

I can't think of anything more formalized that would help either, because the monetary incentives of ignoring or never learning about standards just aren't there. If you're just out there winging it, trying to make as much money as possible, what short term incentive do you have to adopt ethics? I'm trying to help find or create real incentives that aren't easy to ignore, so if anyone has any good ideas I'm open.

[1] https://standards.ieee.org/project/7010.html

[2] https://standards.ieee.org/project/7000.html

I think you're missing the point.

The problem is not that developers don't care about standards. And its not that developers are just trying to make as much money as possible.

Most developers have financial obligations that require them to keep their jobs.

The people making unethical decisions are their bosses.

The developers cannot contradict their bosses in this way and keep their jobs.

However, if you make the standards an organization-level thing and tie management and legal into it, it may be come to be that it is some developer's job to report on standards infringement. In which case they could say "no, this is illegal" and if there were legal precedent showing criminal charges or penalties had been applied, the management might consider following the standard. Although at first even if those standards existed, I assume sometimes management would just fire the messenger and hire another one who would claim the standards were upheld.

I'm not missing the point. Ethics isn't negotiable. This is not a place to be cynical.

"Just following orders" isn't an acceptable excuse.

You either quit or you're complicit. It's pretty straightforward actually.

What we're trying to get to is a place where there is some incentive for organizations to do the process you described. At a certain point we're just going to legislate it, so we can wait for that blunt hammer to happen, or we can get our collective act together.

This sort of process where you shame a group of people into collective action just isn't realistic within the day to day lives of working class people in any society on this planet.

Corporate legislation and profit motives are the only real incentives in business, I don't care how much you try to isolate individuals taking part and shame them for complicity. It's not about people capable of making the right choice instead choosing the wrong choice. It's an inevitability of the incentive structures of capitalism and commerce. If someone chooses to take an action that sacrifices profit for ethics, they will be driven out of the market by people who take the "more profit" option. It is not the same players making good choices and bad choices. The only way to actually change the paradigm is if you can figure out a way to align incentives so that the person making the moral choice also makes the most money. This is the only way that the structures we've put in place will play out in the way you want. This has nothing to do with individual choice or free will, it is simply the output of a function.

I'm increasingly convinced that there is no non-coercive way to do it, hence the question: Can anyone think of another way to align incentives other than legislating ethics?

I think the current state was inevitable, assuming there wasn't some coercive legislation preventing it. Even then, would people just go do business somewhere else and continue what they are doing because the new system is just viewed as a cost?

No simple answers.

Definitely agree with you that we need legislation.

>"Just following orders" isn't an acceptable excuse.

>You either quit or you're complicit. It's pretty straightforward actually.

I meant that I don't really agree with this part of your rhetoric where you are trying to shame people into behaving ethically in business or quit their job. What happens if everyone capable of thinking about morals quits? Do the companies just disappear in a poof of smoke? How does this fix anything, regardless? You have to understand that the situation is not this black and white for 99% of people.

My intent isn't to shame, but to state a position about immutability of virtue and consistency with respect to an ethic.

Practically I understand full well that it's not black or white, however if we argue how many shades of grey exist, rather than take bold action, history seems to indicate that little progress will happen.

How does them staying with the company fix anything?

It's naive to believe that 'if the good one stay it is better than if they leave' as if they could change the company from within.

A company is not a democracy. They won't change shit.

If you think that's true then there is no reason for the "good guy" to leave.

You'll have to explain that one to me.

Assuming the business can find new people then basically the ethics-focused opposition is gone and nothing prevents the company from doing worse and worse things.

> You either quit or you're complicit. It's pretty straightforward actually.

Not all people have that option.

Developers execute. They can't deny a boss his request based on opinions. These things are okay for the one and not okay for someone else.

The boss is paid to be responsible

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed a paycheck to pay rent and you had to either miss rent or do something less than ethical that your boss was telling you to do?

I've been in worse situations than that and refused orders. So, yes.

There are costs involved in taking a stand. If any group has the capacity to take a financial hit in service to an ethical framework it's software engineers.

Or maybe their managers or executives who are paid much more?

IEEE could start by making standards free as in zero cost to download.

I've been in similar meetings and spoken out against similar shadiness. I was told the decision was made and it was happening because a new revenue stream on a process that was otherwise already saving us money was too irresistible and to shut up and do my job, there was a long line of people willing to replace me.

I did eventually leave that company and at least one of the specific individuals involved in pushing that decision were ultimately caught embezzling money and fired, but they were not otherwise punished and they had a new job within a week.

Hell our CEO from when we were involved in a 880 million dollar accounting scandal got off effectively Scott free despite anyone who ever worked with him knowing he personally directed the accounting fraud that lead to the scandal. Only the CMO got any jail time.

My point is that if the rot is from the top down, no amount of speaking up is going to do anything except limit your career path. There is limited recourse for holding the decision makers accountable.

Most tech workers are in a position for building and not leading, so their most powerful option is to sabotage.

This is similar to asking why a McDonald's worker doesn't think more about American health. A single fast food employee may contribute more to the end product than most engineers.

A tech strike is also far less effective. Only people in the region can effectively make your burger. People in Australia can coordinate with people in China to build your software.

> Why did NO ONE in any meetings when designing this "feature" or process say anything?

That person probably did speak up, which was probably followed by that person getting pushed out and/or quitting. When some greedy jackass with questionable ideas on how a business should be run gets into a position of power, capable people who dont agree with Captain Jackass aren't going on Captain's team very long.

I worked at a different crowdsource delivery than DoorDash or Instacart. When this exact situation came up, I loudly voiced these exact concerns. Management said 'hey, no worries, legal department says it's not illegal!'. They did not understand the difference between "this is illegal" and "this is unethical". They just didn't get it. And most of the developers said "wow, that's awful, but I guess there's nothing we can do".

I quit. I'm still furious about it. Those who didn't walk when they knew it was wrong are good people- just cowards. That's what really makes me angry.

If I publicly discuss it or name names, I'll probably be sued for violating my NDA. They made that very clear. So I'm a coward too. At least I'm not a part of it anymore.

The lesson is never tip with an app- use cash. I guess that most of these companies are playing these games now.

> Why did NO ONE in any meetings when designing this "feature" or process say anything?

I think other commenters have covered the futility of speaking up internally (basically the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedman_doctrine in action), but the question I have is:

Why did no one blow the whistle? Instacart's tip stealing code had likely been in place a long time before any external activists noticed it. An ethical developer could have passed word of it and its implications to activists or journalists right as it went into production. That would not have exposed the dev to retaliation (as it'd be publicly observable in PROD), but would have likely torpedoed the feature before it could do much harm to workers.

The Friedman doctrine wouldn't advocate against doing this either, because it's not within the bounds of law.

> Why did NO ONE in any meetings when designing this "feature" or process say anything?

Meetings are rarely open-ended forums for arbitrary ideas or feedback and more often venues for agreeing with and carrying out decisions that were already made.

Anyway, I think it's far from settled that the amount of "blowback" from decisions like these actually hurt a company in the typical case.

I worked for a company that did something similar (they said they sent a portion of profit to a non-profit of the user's choice, which was true, but if the user didn't designate a non-profit, then the company would keep the money... something close to 50% of the users didn't bother to designate a non-profit after signing up).

I brought a feature to remind these users to designate their non-profit, but the company had no interest in doing so since it would reduce their revenue. And this came from the top, it wasn't a product manager decision.

The company is no longer around, but I didn't stick around long after that, it seemed unethical.

I am currently working under Grubhub, Doordash, Uber Eats and several other food delivery services.

None of them communicate, none of them tell you what is going on, none of them are controlling the conversation their employees are talking about on Facebook.

It is PR 101 to control the conversation... but every one of them fail at this when it comes to contractors.

Is Uber Eats or Grubhub (or PostMates) better than DoorDash in terms of how they handle tipping? Or can you even tell? I imagine the payments are so opaque it can be hard to tell.

I'm not using DoorDash anymore, not that I used them much before, but I feel ripped off. If I choose to use a delivery service, I'd at least like to know it's one that hasn't been lying to me. I realize that probably means Uber is right out :)

I think the simplest way to tell is if the app requires you to tip before or after the order has been placed.

I've read in other HN threads that Uber Eats tip policy is what we as customers expect, but don't take my word for it.

It would be just as easy to implement a process where a tip after-the-fact still reduces the "employee"'s normal pay.. Do just mean, in practice, that's not the way it's normally implemented?

You're right I didn't consider them making it up on the backend somehow. I still believe that forcing a "pre-tip" is a clear indication of something sketchy going on. I can't think of any other valid reason for forcing it.

This driver isn’t paid until after the delivery anyway, so that shouldn’t be a factor.

When deciding to tip before or after the service is rendered, these are the considerations likely to be weighed:

Pros for asking for tips before delivery:

1. Tips are more likely (eliminates scenario where user ignores the app after the delivery and never sees request to tip).

2. Tips are larger (user may perceive that the tip will influence the quality of service).


1. Tip option increases perceived cost of order (or guilt if not tipping), so this additional step reduces number of completed orders.

With the DoorDash policy this article is referencing, where the company probably only makes a profit if you tip, it makes sense to ask for tips upfront. For the Uber/Lyft policy where tips are more for the benefit of the driver, it makes sense to tip after the ride.

I think that is the big issue. It's ok as a payment scheme, but it's fraud to say 100% of the tips go to the Dasher if a separate payment is reduced based on the tip amount.

> No one voiced concerns? Or, more specifically, if they did, no one listened?

Based on experience I would say that the engineers had concerns but they knew that upper management was not interested. It's all about that short-term profit!

Worth noting as well that they call the workers 'shoppers' which helps distance them from the concept of doing work.

You mean we have to pay them just to shop all day? /s

As a marketer, I fully blame a marketer for this. Woof.

Unfortunately, it's the hacking mindset when it's applied to the treatment of other humans.

I've been in growth hack meetings (usually around customer acquisition and retention) this screams to me like a former PwC consultant came in and delivered PPT presentation with some sort of finance speak of "Leveraging In-App Tips to Dynamically Improve Cash Flow via User Behavior Arbitrage" or some other such nonsense.

My guess is this was a top down decision from the CFO/COO or head of product.

Betting on CFO/COO. Head of Product should be more in touch with... humans.

No - almost by definition, they get to be in that position be being in touch with what the founders want, and how they tick.

Not for being in touch with "humans".

Probably because people did voice those concerns and it wasn't politically the right thing to do in the org at the time, they were labelled "not a team player" and shown the door.

I think they did. They got shot down.

I was at the meeting at payday lender when we discussed some ways how to extract maximum money from people who are delinquent. People do speak up, they get shot down.

Most likely this did NOT play out as you've described.

I'd wager to bet it was a very high level, executive decision that got green lighted and quickly shuffled down to a low-level developer for implementation.

I don't know if "apathy" is the right term. It's more a lack of a moral compass (not uncommon in most profit-seeking business) and a tendency to see people as numbers and data points.

> Why did NO ONE in any meetings when designing this "feature" or process say anything?

I am assuming you are saying PM, designers, backend engineers or others who actually had a hand in building the product should protest this. So you are basically saying engineers and designers should stand up and say no.

I think the focus is on wrong people.

The question should be, why is MBA schools still teaching their students to reduce cost at all cost and increase revenue at all cost. No matter what.

Fine, the engineers build what they build. But someone hires/fires people, and signs checks for certain projects. Someone tells the engineers to build something. And who are these people?

Let's focus the public anger at the right people. It's not the engineers.

It's the graduates of the expensive MBA schools.

Blame the biggest VCs. They have enough market power and smarts to enforce ethics on their portfolio companies, but probably encourage these ideas.

I am sure someone would have said that. The problem is that Instacart and Door Dash are very low margin business and through tactics like this, they can probably stay afloat or make some (small) profit. I know it is difficult to empathize with their behavior and assume the worst but when you are competing with deep pockets such as Amazon and Uber Eats, it is important to ensure that your unit economics work out and that the next fund raising happens successfully. Otherwise, they will eventually die anyways.

If you can't survive without grossly misleading your customers then you have no right to survive at all.

Why doesn't this problem exist when I order something from Amazon? Because there is no absurd idea that I should be tipping the UPS guy or anyone else involved in fulfilling my order.

It makes much more sense for InstaCart to simply collect star ratings and offer bonuses for the employees who are going above and beyond.

Considering how often the shopper has to call me about replacements, parking outside my building, etc., Instacart should be focusing on fixing the inventory issues and logistical issues, not trying to shame me into paying its employee an extra $5 at every turn.

Instacart charges for delivery and often marks up the prices of the items. I don't like being shaken down via a default tip when trying to check out. It's extremely irritating!

In my opinion the tip comes in when you ask for a service specific to you and a person provides it. USPS is providing a general service to your, let's call it neighborhood. But a barber is providing a personal service to you.

Doordash and the like are more like the latter than the former. You say what you want, a single person in that profession does the work for you, and then you pay their fee and something on top.

Of course I'd rather tips were not necessary but it is practices like this one that make them necessary. And I wouldn't trust them with some rating/bonus system. If these companies were paying a good wage and had good benefits instead of relying on the 1099 economy and skimming payments even after that, we could eliminate tips altogether. I look forward to that day, but until we get there...

A Florist provides personal service to me, and you aren't expected to tip them, as does a cake decorator, or mechanic. This reads like a reverse justification for tipping, that is innately irrational.

Same with a doctor, lawyer, accountant, refrigerator repairperson, gardener, painter, nanny, DMV clerk, bank teller, and the person making your chipotle burrito. Yet you aren't expected to tip them.

I also find "bring me food" hardly more "personalized" than "scan my items and take my money."

The times you tip are when it's socially acceptable to tip, there's no "rules" you can apply that make any sense.

Don't worry, Amazon screws their delivery workers in other ways.

Employees? What are those?

I think tipping someone who delivers food to you is one of the only areas where tipping makes sense.

Why do think this? There are plenty of cultures where tipping is not normal and will in general be refused if you try to tip.

... because?

It's not uncommon to tip your UPS/FedEx delivery person, or your USPS carrier. At least around the holidays.

One of my close friends is a USPS courier. Technically they are never allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents like gift cards.

You can give them small non-cash-like gifts such as a bottle of wine though.


The tip you give to the UPS driver is a real tip for good service, not a necessary wage supplement to keep them from starving.

How is it good service? Does the driver have any control over the traffic?

I often meet the driver. Some of them are nicer than others.

I would guess that the ratio of the number of tips to the number of deliveries for UPS/FedEx/USPS is orders of magnitude lower than for Instacart/DoorDash/etc.

And those delivery drivers are paid a wage, unlike the $0.80 per hour w/o tips from instacart.

Isn't there a minimum wage even for tipped workers at like 2$ something?

These types of "gig workers" aren't employees, they are independent contractors so minimum wage doesn't apply to them.

there is a term for that in German "Scheinselbstständigkeit" basically "pretend independence", seems more like a loophole than anything else

The UPS guy doesn't have to push a cart around the store to fill your order, either

I have a simple answer: I will never use Instacart or Doordash again, ever. Even if they change their policy, they are dead to me as companies, and any company that acquires them is similarly dead to me.

If you're out there, upstart disruptors, know that pulling stuff like this will cost you at least one customer for life. I'm sure that there are more people like me.

Instacart workers have urged customers not to boycott the company, which would cut even further into their earnings.

Those Instacart workers can go drive for the other companies that will get my business. I'm not skipping out on grocery and food delivery. I'm voting for good behavior with my wallet.

Note: I recognize the same people driving for different services pretty regularly.

What other company has the same opportunities or market share as Instacart?

If we use this logic then there will never be an alternative. We need to create a vacuum and that might negatively affect the shoppers in the interim.

Edit: It looks like Instacart is making some kind of amends and changing policy.

Shipt is one. It’s a bit limited but it is growing.


There's plenty of former employees who've left issues with low pay and these policies. I'd rather show solidarity with them by not supporting their exploitative former employer.

Can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either it’s not impacting workers as much as the article and our imaginations would lead us to believe, or it is. If it is, then yes voting with your wallet is 100% appropriate despite temporary disruption it might cause workers.

For these workers, it's really "neither have your cake nor eat it". They get screwed by Instacart and DoorDash stealing their tips, and then screwed further when they can't make as many deliveries because people boycott.

I'm not saying we should support shitty companies. But these boycotts ostensibly happen because we have empathy for workers. We shouldn't lose track of that empathy when workers talk about how the boycotts affect them.

This just goes to show that all industries need competition. If there's a third company that also provide this service, they could market themselves as more ethical, and if the people truly are as conscientious as it seems to be here, then it will gain market share.

Competition might be necessary to fix this, but it's certainly not sufficient. The restaurant industry is competitive, but according to the Department of Labor [1] "nearly 84 percent of full-service restaurants it investigated between 2010 and 2012 had violated labor standards, including but not limited to tip violations".

[1] https://nyti.ms/2GjqIyu

They're welcome to their opinion, and we're welcome to ours. If the point is to help every Instacart worker as much as possible, then the answer is complicated.

If the point is to not support businesses that lie to their customers, then not supporting them anymore is the right move.

Instacart workers should not allow themselves bullied to this point.

Some Instacart workers. Let's not conflate a small group of vocal people as representative of the entire group.

Domestic violence victim urges police not to arrest spouse, as it will only make them angrier.

Okay, but what do the ex-Instacart workers have to say?

this is depressing

This is exactly why I don't boycott WalMart. Because as abhorrent and their policies are, the last thing I want to do is put some poor person barely scraping by out of a job.

The solution here is not to boycott these places, it's to use your power to lobby for better laws to protect the workers, which will apply evenly to all companies, including future companies that might try to take advantage of people.

Or you could support a competitor that treats their employees well, giving them more business so they can expand their business and hire the people that eventually leave Walmart...

This is why I avoid Walmart and Amazon, even if it hurts my bottom line.

You can lobby for better laws and boycott businesses that treat their employees poorly at the same time.

Hopefully your business will stimulate growth in companies that treat their employees fairly, and they will hire those who are still stuck working for bad employers.

They'll get their jobs back pretty quick. Wal-Mart is pretty good about recognizing problems within a Q or two and 'fixing' the issue

The few times I've used them [1] they were just choked with dark patterns. Stuff like [2] "Hooray, on your first order, we waive service fees!" -> "Delivery fee $4.99." Huh? What's the difference?

[1] I'm not a big food delivery user FWIW.

[2] just from memory -- I don't know the exact terminology

You can give cash tips instead.

I wonder if those companies use the lack of tips as an indicator for not providing excellent service... and then use that as an argument to not use those drivers.

At least for DoorDash you tip ahead of time so it doesn't really make sense to associate the tip with the quality of the driver.

I wonder if they use it to indicate the quality of the customer.

Yep, I often wonder if the driver sees the tip amount before they deliver, and puts less importance on your order if the tip is considered low.

I’m a Dasher, and we can’t even see tips per order we complete, only how much we got in tips and how much we got from DoorDash during a session of deliveries.

Other comments state that they do see the tip amounts before they deliver.

But they don't get the tip so why should they care?

Are Uber and Lyft doing this too? Should we tip them in cash? I've wondered if that was better for them.

Uber/UberEats pays their drivers a flat time/distance rate. If a customer gives a tip, this doesn't affect their pay for the drive (unlike DoorDash/Instacart), and the tip is 100% owned by the driver.

I would prefer this be phrased as "Uber does not take a cut of tips for drivers."

Drivers would definitely prefer, for a given dollar, that it be given in a way that does not create a taxable paper trail unless they elect to declare it.

I’m all for helping out the worker and always tip fairly even though I think we should abolish the custom, but I draw the line at changing my behavior in order to enable tax evasion.

I pretty much gave up on all the delivery and quick convenience companies like this.

It's all about pushing risk on to the employees, some of whom really don't know the risk and what their net pay even is.

Why take such drastic measures? Just use their system against them.

What I always, always do, is put $0 as a tip in the system and then tip the delivery person, in cash or using some app/paypal/etc., when they bring my order.

Same here. I used Instacart heavily for about a year until I started reading more about what a total scum bag company it is.

It’s very clear they only reversed this tipping policy because they are facing pressure. They would never do it otherwise. This is a consistent pattern with them — keep doing unethical behavior until the pressure requires you to change.

This is the correct approach.

Vote with youir wallet, and stop giving money to companies that don't deserve to exist.

> ...couriers have braved the elements, gotten by on meager wages and dealt with annoying customers, growling dogs and fifth-floor walk-ups, all for the chance of a big tip from a happy customer.

This is not how I experience it working, in my area, with sites like GrubHub and the others.

They ask for a tip UPFRONT, before delivery.

I usually like to tip cash (for obvious reasons). There is an option for this, and the problem starts when I select this option.

My food takes an extra 1+ hour to arrive. It's cold. Soggy. My family has been waiting for around 2 hours total.


This NEVER happens when I tip upfront through the app.

Complaining to their support line never fixes the issue, so I started asking the delivery drivers about this.

What did they say?

Apparently, the app flashes the delivery drivers how much tip you've entered BEFORE they decide to take on your delivery.

So my order, when I pay a cash tip, simply doesn't get picked up by any delivery driver and it's at the restaurant getting cold and soggy.

When I tip upfront, it gets delivered in a normal timeframe.

I tested giving a BIG tip upfront, guess what?

My order came faster than it ever has in the past. I asked the driver and he flat out told me he saw the big tip and rushed to grab this delivery.

It's because drivers can and will reject orders with $0 tips. Drivers with GH get paid $3 + $.50 mileage as the crow flies. A $0 left on an order will be a total pay anywhere from $3-$5 depending on distance. It's absolutely not worth it to drive for $3-5 per order especially when a round trip for that order takes around 30 minutes. Also we don't get paid mileage for the trip to the restaurant. To add to the fire GH, DD, UE, etc all take about 25% from the restaurant so everyone is losing except for the courier companies.

> It's because drivers can and will reject orders with $0 tips.

That's what I said ;)

Drivers can see the tip (or lack thereof) and NOT take the order. So the end result for a customer who likes to pay a cash tip AFTER service is rendered, always gets horrible service.

I'm not complaining about the drivers, it's the company.

So drivers can see the tip and food price before accepting an order? My understanding from reading a couple articles was that drivers could see how much they would get paid for the order but not see the breakdown of how much was the customer tip and how much was DD's contribution.

I wonder if you added a note stating that you planned to tip in cash, whether the drivers could see that and give you better service.

Between a guaranteed tip of a known amount vs a maybe possible tip, which would you choose?

That being said they're probably aware of the average expected value of a cash tip, and it maybe lower than whatever you guarantee via prepayment.

It's like asking if you want $10 or what's in the mystery box. You should never pick the mystery box as there is no incentive to actually put anything good in the mystery box.

Although if drivers hear about this story and find out that some prepaid tips are doing nothing for them, their perceptions of the cash tip may change. I figure they have the ability to give the customer zero stars if the promised tip isn’t given.

That's what they see, that I'm going to "tip cash"

This sounds like fine model to me, pay more, get faster service. The key should be transparency and a minimum service level, ie. they should lay enough by default that every order will get picked up.

I'm not a customer of either services since I'm not in the US but tipping upfront before you even receive the service seems a little odd. Doesn't one tip for getting an outstanding over-the-top customer service and in order to do that, one should undergo the entire workflow till receiving the goods?

In the US tipping is standard, not for over-the-top service.

In general, higher pay for better quality goods and services is part of a negotiated sticker price. Tipping is the anamoly here. In the DoorDash context, if the user were given the option to tip after delivery, they’d most likely just forget about the app once they got their food and never tip. So there’d be little incentive for the drivers to work hard for a good tip.

Unless service is so great that you have to leave a tip. I guess the culture in the US really puts tipping in a different light. When it becomes normal or close to mandatory I would say, to tip, so that workers get close to minimum wage, it really defeats the purpose. I guess I wanna tip when I feel that I'm getting more value than the amount I'm paying for and also when I'm not obliged to do so.

Anyways, aside from this point, whatever these startups are doing, are real shady. Them carefully choosing their words in the binding documents makes it even worse since they know the potential repercussions of these actions.

What if you give a good tip first but then the delivery turns out late?

Complain though whatever feedback mechanism the app gives you. Same thing you’d do if the food didn’t show up at all.

On the other hand, what does the driver do if they go above and beyond to give you great service, but then you don’t tip?

With prepayment of tip, we have no idea how the service will be. It would make sense to just roll it into the base cost.

The server doesn’t know whether you will follow through with a tip when they decide how well to serve you. The information asymmetry goes one way or the other.

You are correct.

It's really not a fine model, though. This isn't groceries, or a package from Amazon, this is hot food ready to serve that goes cold and soggy.

Whole Foods (Amazon) grocery delivery has you tip the delivery person up-front. They still seem to screw up my order all the time. I mean, seriously, I KNOW they have the stuff on the shelves, but the delivery people flake out all the time and don't deliver half my order. What a scam.

There's also the issue of tipping for service before it's been rendered. So you might pay a big tip and still receive shitty service, and now you have to deal with customer support hoping to get a refund.

Honestly, I don't really care about all of that. If it's horrible service I can complain and most likely get a refund of some sort.

I care that I want hot food, delivered in a reasonable time, and that I can pay a tip AFTER service is rendered (based upon the actual service I get).

I feel like you're agreeing with me but don't realize it.

The issue as described here is that the service captures most of the value of the tip, so the drivers are wasting their effort when they rush to complete tipped orders.

Not if it's cash ;) Hence my point.

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