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Mike Allen Wants Your Uber Trip Data for Some Unexplained Reason

What is Politico up to now?
Uber, but for Mike Allen. Photograph of phone by MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/Shutterstock.

Mike Allen, a humanoid robot who authors Politico’s Playbook newsletter and performs many other tasks for the Arlington-based publisher, wants your Uber trip data. A chunk of Thursday’s edition announces a “contest” to win lunch with him and Playbook co-author Daniel Lippman:

PLAYBOOK UBER CONTEST: Many of you got a fifth-anniversary email from Uber this week (subject line: “Oh, the places you’ve been”) listing how many rides you’ve taken. Forward your Uber email by the end of tomorrow to dlippman@politico.com, along with the name and email address of a friend or colleague who’d enjoy subscribing to Playbook. The person with the most rides—plus a randomly selected entrant—will win lunch with us.

Uber, which launched five years ago this week, celebrated the milestone by sending its customers emails telling recipients how many months they’ve been signed up with the service, how many cities they’ve used it in, and how many trips they’ve logged. Customers of the car-hailing service are long accustomed to the company tracking their movements, now Allen wants in? For what purposes? Aside from his report last August that former White House adviser David Plouffe was taking a senior-management job with Uber, Allen has not covered Uber much beyond blurbing his colleagues’ reports in his morning digest.

Allen has run contests for lunch before, though none that required entrants to surrender information about how they move around Washington. Last November, Allen tested his readers’ ability to predict the outcome of close elections; the winner was treated to lunch at P.J. Clarke’s. In May 2014, a Playbook contest asked readers to guess ousted New York Times editor Jill Abramson‘s next employer, with the prize being lunch with Allen and This Town author Mark Leibovich. (Abramson wound up starting her own thing.)

In an email, Allen tells Washingtonian that Politico will pay for the winners’ lunch and that Uber is not involved with the contest. But what is Allen playing at here? Does he want to write a story about the Washingtonian who has used Uber the most? Is Politico branching into bulk-data colleciton? Does anyone who’s already reading more than halfway through Playbook have any friends or colleagues who aren’t already subscribers themselves?

For what it’s worth, your Capital Comment blogger is an unlikely candidate to win Allen’s contest: He signed up for Uber 42 months ago (when it launched in DC), and has taken 25 trips, all located in one city (this one). And he already gets the Playbook, which has sometimes even included him in its lists of birthday celebrants and party attendees. But because this whole thing is still so weird, here’s a contest for readers of Washingtonian: Forward your best photo of Mike Allen in the wild—i.e., anywhere that’s not Politico or the White House—to bfreed@washingtonian.com by the end of tomorrow. The person with the strangest photo, plus a randomly selected entrant, will shotgun a beer with us.

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Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.