By Lisa Pickoff-White and Dan Brekke
Note: Post updated Saturday, June 28.
No, it’s not a complete surprise that MonkeyParking, the smartphone app that appears to facilitate buying and selling of public parking spaces, is now telling the city of San Francisco, “Whoa — that’s not what we’re doing at all.”
City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the Rome-based firm the other day that the app violates an ordinance that forbids renting, leasing or selling street or sidewalk space. Herrera gave the company until July 11 to shut down. MonkeyParking has responded with an online declaration that it’s not about to cease operations.
“MonkeyParking is an innovative social sharing app that lets registered users communicate with each other when a parking spot becomes available,” the statement says. “Users have the opportunity to be paid for the information communicated based on whether or not the communication successfully identifies a parking spot that is available. MP is not in the business of selling or auctioning parking spots.”
The MonkeyParking statement also decries the way the city is trampling on fundamental freedoms:
The shared economy trades on information, not on goods or services or other commodities. We are very surprised that the City of San Francisco, which prides itself of being a liberal and tolerating city, does not see that their cease and desist letter is an open violation of free speech, contrary to the First Amendment of the US Constitution (“I have the right to tell people if I am about to leave a parking spot and they have the right to pay me for such information”).
Herrera spokesman Matt Dorsey told the San Francisco Chronicle that’s “wildly inventive verbal gymnastics.”
“Let’s be honest,” Dorsey told the Chron. “It’s like a prostitute saying she’s not selling sex — she’s only selling information about her willingness to have sex with you. It’s semantic hair-splitting, and it’s absurd.”
MonkeyParking’s statement also appears to fly in the face of the way it has pitched its service, both on its website and in its app. Just a couple of days ago, a sample app screen on the MonkeyParking site included this dialogue: “John will pay $10 for your current parking spot. Are you in?”
That sure sounds like a parking spot, not just the information about it, is up for sale. We note that the sample screen displayed on MonkeyParking’s site has changed in the last 48 hours. It now says, “Maggie will pay $10 to find a parking spot. Can you help her?” (And yes, that sounds like Maggie is willing to pay a sawbuck just to have someone tell her where she can find parking.)
The MonkeyParking app, as downloaded from the iTunes App Store Friday afternoon, seems more explicit about what you’re buying and selling. A setup screen says, “Make up to $150/month by selling your on-street parking spots.”
Another screen in the app describes the MonkeyParking process:
- Whenever you park your car, publish your parking spot.
- Get notified about drivers willing to pay for it.
- Leave your spot to a driver and get paid for the effort.
Similarly, MonkeyParking’s sample screens in the App Store say the program allows you to “broadcast your price for a parking spot,” “request a parking spot” and “let the highest bidder park at your place.”
Though we don’t claim to be doctors of jurisprudence or Nobel economics laureates, MonkeyParking’s pitch doesn’t seem real subtle: While the app furnishes information about parking, what users are paying for, and getting paid for, is concrete real estate.
Update: Saturday morning (June 28), we got an email from MonkeyParking CEO Paolo Dobrowolny, based in Rome, responding to our questions about the wording on the MonkeyParking site and app. He says:
Regarding your statements on our initial pitch, I can confirm we recently worked on the wording on our website (and on our app) to clarify what is our business model. We used a lot of very controversial and straightforward communication messages in the last months. That was a marketing strategy (and it worked!) but we are now focusing more on our value proposition.
The process behind the app and the mission to get rid of circling the block are still the same since the very first version of MonkeyParking.