Under the guise of giving its drivers more access to the banking and financial system, Uber has quietly been developing a loan program that may have the potential to trap drivers in cycles of debt, making them easier for the company to exploit.

In early September, a number of Uber drivers in the US received a notification through their Uber app informing them that the company was developing an “exciting new financial product” to help them “in a time of need”. “If Uber provided access to affordable loans,” an accompanying questionnaire asked, “how likely are you to take advantage of this product?”

What Uber was testing with drivers appears to be a payday loan program in which the company will offer drivers short-term credit of up to $500 or more. Drivers would presumably repay these debts by, well, driving for Uber. The program, versions of which have already been rolled out in India, Brazil and Peru, has not yet been launched in the US, and Uber has declined to discuss its details in the press. But the loans are clearly part of a broader push the company is making, through its new Uber Money subsidiary, into giving drivers access to financial products such as bank accounts and credit cards.