MonkeyParking, a Rome-based startup whose mobile app lets users buy and sell public parking spaces, has temporarily ceased operations in San Francisco following a cease-and-desist order from the City Attorney's Office.
The service's only US location had been San Francisco, which happens to have a law in its police code that forbids residents from purchasing, selling, or renting public parking spaces. Doing so results in fines of up to $300.
"Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work -- and MonkeyParking is not one of them," City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement last month. "It's illegal, it puts drivers on the hook for $300 fines, and it creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate."
The cease-and-desist order, which was also sent to Apple in an effort to have the app removed from its iOS app store, gave MonkeyParking until July 11 to comply or face legal action. Now, it appears the startup has thrown in the towel until it figures out a way to conduct operations legally.
"In light of the cease and desist letter that we received from the City of San Francisco, we are currently reviewing our service to clarify our value proposition and avoid any future misunderstandings," the company said in a blog post on its website. "We are working to avoid any possible improper use of our service and provide a positive tool for the City of San Francisco and its inhabitants."
MonkeyParking is emblematic of a new -- and increasingly less rare -- breed of startup that is earning the ire of critics both outside and within the tech industry. The issue lies in the idea that what are perceived as novel apps and startups in 2014 are, in reality, predatory and shameless services operating under the guise of the Bay Area's love affair with "disruption" and innovation." The goal is to seek out something that does not belong to anyone -- wait lines for a product or service, free and public utilities like parking spaces -- that historically we do not think of as having monetary value and monetizing it through a website or mobile app.
ReservationHop, a service that books prime-time restaurant reservations under fake names and auctions them off last minute, became a collective source of outrage last week when it surfaced in online communities. The backlash prompted the creator to pen a blog post titled, "How I became the most hated person in San Francisco, for a day." (Reservation-selling startups are popping up left and right nowadays, though many work together with restaurants in a way that better minimizes risk of an empty table.)
MonkeyParking feels that it is dealing not in the actual auctioning off of parking spaces, but in enabling users to exchange valuable information that can seemingly only be exchanged for a dollar amount, a cut of which goes to MonkeyParking.
"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")," MonkeyParking wrote initially after the City Attorney's Office advised the startup to cease operations.
TechCrunch's Josh Constine has cleverly labeled these companies "Jerk Tech," naturally to be used as a Twitter hashtag alongside his directive, "Go disrupt yourself." The idea is that there are certainly people who are willing to pay for things like public parking spaces and restaurant reservations. However, that a third-party startup would swoop in to capitalize on that demand for no reason other than profit is not only distasteful, but also a cruel deformation of the very promise of the sharing economy.
In the case of MonkeyParking, it also happens to be illegal.