Silicon Valley's "sharing economy" startups are known for skirting the law, but now they're blatantly violating it. Days after San Francisco's City Attorney asked Apple to ban three "predatory" parking apps from the App Store, MonkeyParking is refusing to shut down, claiming auction off public parking is "free speech."
MonkeyParking was described by City Attorney Dennis Herrera as a "predatory private market for public parking spaces." However, MonkeyParking CEO Paolo Dobrowolny denies Herrera's claim that the app "[allows] users 'to buy and sell' parking spaces."
The Rome-based company insists they're not selling parking spaces, they're just selling access to information:
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").
Framing the sharing economy as information services is a cute defense. Airbnb isn't a distributed hotelier, it's selling access to a database of spare bedrooms. But it isn't going to save the company. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the City Attorney's office isn't so convinced by MonkeyParking's reasoning.
Herrera spokesman Matt Dorsey described that justification as "wildly inventive verbal gymnastics."
"Let's be honest. It's like a prostitute saying she's not selling sex — she's only selling information about her willingness to have sex with you," Dorsey said. "It's semantic hair splitting — and it's absurd."
MonkeyParking stated they are currently "consulting with legal counsel." Herrera's office maintains that users of the app will face $300 fines and MonkeyParking could face "civil penalties of $2,500 per transaction" if they do not shut down by July 11th.