ratpag has a neighbor. A few years ago this neighbor decided that the city can “recycle just about anything,” and began putting all of his trash into the green recycling bin for free pickup. This way, he doesn’t have to pay the city fees for regular trash pick up. This is not only unethical, it’s illegal, but it’s kind of hard to enforce. He knows the law, he knows he can’t get caught, so he chooses to ignore it.
Tech companies are behaving in much the same way. Quite a pleasant surprise to ratpag, the way that tech companies flout the law has become a weekly theme. We’ve seen Tesla refuse to work through a dealership in New Jersey, although they at least had the common decency to go to court. Virginia ordered Uber to stop service in Virginia while until they found a legal way for Uber to continue to operate; Uber ignored them and kept collecting money. That one was two-parter!
Today brings us more law-ignoring from parking app MonkeyParking.
This takes a minute to explain. MonkeyParking allows users to post when they are about to leave a parking spot on a public street. And you get paid when you do! City officials in San Francisco have argued that this amounts to selling public property, and have ordered the site shut down and the app removed from iTunes. No one did anything, because local ordinances don’t apply in the land of tech.
MonkeyParking makes a pretty weak case here:
Dobrowolny said MonkeyParking doesn’t sell parking spots, but convenience. He cites freedom of speech, saying people have the right to tell others they’re leaving a parking spot and get paid for it.
So they’re not actually selling parking spots—they’re facilitating the free exchange of ideas. What is space? What is our societal concept of property? It’s all just a big conceptual art project, with a little exchange of money and some venture capital financing.
The article fails to mention that users then bid on those parking spots, making it more about an exchange of money than exchange of ideas. A quote from a district attorney’s representative sums it up perfectly:
“It’s like a prostitute saying she’s not selling sex – she’s only selling information about her willingness to have sex with you,”
ratpag can’t believe ratpag is saying this, but what this blog needs is a refresher on why law is necessary for an effective society.
It’s not that this is a bad idea. A good chunk of urban congestion is drivers looking for spots. But at least pretend to work with local governments, whose primary objective is to serve its citizens rather than make Peter Thiel a couple mill (or change the world, but I can’t tell the difference anymore). A local government might be concerned that this system discriminates against those without smartphones, or that a bidding/reservation system could lead to other unanticipated problems, like street fights. And not the cool ones either.
It’s also an unnecessary service when there are plenty of available spots on private property that can be rented on demand, and most importantly, legally. Let’s promote these types of apps, of which there are about five million.