Company Promises 'Seamless Parking Experience' In Exchange For The Permission To Track App Users All Over The Internet

from the pervasive-tracking?-yeah,-there's-an-app-for-that dept

Paying for parking should be simple. A driver exchanges money for space and time. End of discussion.

But it’s never going to be that simple again. Not if tech companies like Metropolis Technologies can help it. Instead of paying for parking, drivers will be expected to allow the company to trail it all over the internet, across devices, and package up all this information and sell it to third parties.

You shouldn’t need an app to park a car. Metropolis believes you do. And that’s causing some friction in Southern California, where cars are everywhere and parking is limited. A dust up between Trader Joe’s customers and a nearby lot began with a shopper being accosted by a lot attendant and ended with the retailer making it very clear it had no desire to make its customers download an app just to park their cars.

Colin Shanahan discovered this during a recent visit to the Trader Joe’s grocery store in Hollywood.

After parking his car in the garage — seldom an easy task, as any SoCal TJ’s customer will attest — he was instructed by an attendant to download an app to his phone, register for service and use that for payment.

“Not wanting to give some random app a ton of personal information, I declined,” the Hollywood resident told me.

The parking-lot attendant, he said, “let me off with a warning that I wouldn’t be so lucky next time.”

The response from Trader Joe’s?

“This isn’t a TJ’s thing,” said Tara Miller, a Trader Joe’s spokesperson. “It’s being implemented by the landlord. We are a tenant in the building and are bound by the same parking validation system as other tenants.”

No, it’s a Metropolis thing. The Venice, California company was formed in 2017 and offers the promise/threat of “parking reimagined” on its bright, shiny website.

The reimagination begins with the requirement of an app to park cars in lots “serviced” by Metropolis. The demands it makes from users (again, just in exchange for the dubious privilege of paying for parking along with additional “convenience” fees) starts with some expected info: name, phone number, credit card. These are all things that are expected from services requiring payment — both to obtain the payments and to verify the legitimacy of linked accounts.

Then the list continues: email address, make, model and year of vehicle, license plate number. Again, these might be useful for validating parking and preventing fraud. But they’re not strictly necessary. Metropolis believes this information is key and demands it.

The list of demands gets much longer once you install the app.

Metropolis says it may also collect your internet protocol address, which identifies your specific device on information networks, as well as your wireless service provider, browser, operating system and type of phone.

It reserves the right to monitor “pages that you visit before, during and after” using the company’s online parking validation, as well as “information about the links you click” and “information about the services you use.”


“Your browsing activity may be tracked across different websites and different devices or apps,” the policy says. “For example, we may attempt to match your browsing activity on your mobile device with your browsing activity on your laptop.

All of this to facilitate paying for parking. Obviously, Metropolis doesn’t make its money from the “convenience” skim it collects from every transaction. This is where the real money is: pervasive tracking of a person’s internet use and other habits across devices… all starting with an app that’s just supposed to allow you to pay for temporary use of a parking space.

And it won’t just be Metropolis tracking you. The app’s 4,000-word terms of service policy also says third parties will be permitted to tag along like digital remora, helping themselves to whatever data comes floating downstream from the parking app produced by Metropolis. That information is also used to by these third parties to track users’ activities across apps and devices specifically for the purpose of delivering targeted advertising.

David Lazarus, who wrote this up for the Los Angeles Times, was only able to get more corporatespeak when he asked for an explanation for what all of this has to do with parking.

[T]he spokesperson said the company “collects essential information to facilitate a seamless parking experience.”

The only thing seamless here is Metropolis’ collection of information, almost all of which is not “essential” to a “seamless parking experience.” (And what the hell is a “parking experience?” Your car does most of the “experiencing” and it’s inanimate.)

But Metropolis will make inroads despite its illogical, privacy-invading take on parking because people have been trained to assume there’s an app for everything, and anything that keeps them from having to open a wallet or purse is probably a net gain in the long run. There will be the doubters and pockets of resistance, but those on the fence who question the need for a parking app will be smacked in the eyes with a 4,000-word terms of use policy that most won’t bother reading.

Most people aren’t wrong to want or expect frictionless transactions. What’s wrong is companies like Metropolis remove the friction in exchange for tons of information most people wouldn’t willingly agree to hand over if the companies were upfront about what information they were gathering and what they planned to do with it. Pretending a densely worded novella-length privacy policy is the same thing as transparency is pure bullshit.

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Companies: metropolis technologies

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Comments on “Company Promises 'Seamless Parking Experience' In Exchange For The Permission To Track App Users All Over The Internet”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Depending on local law, it may be illegal to require that of existing tenants (or at all); e.g., Residents of a New York City apartment block have successfully forced their landlord to provide them with physical keys after a smart lock (requiring a smartphone app) was installed on the building’s lobby door. Generally, a landlord cannot change an existing lease, e.g. by requiring a new contract with a third party. (Parking, however, is not always part of the residential lease.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

To some degree it doesn’t matter. Since even if those things are illegal, and a judge would side with the residence in that area, they have to take it that far. And when it’s basic access to your residence that people would be fighting for, that’s a giant pita that the wouldn’t have otherwise had to deal with.

But glad to hear that in some states landlords insanity is not blanket tolerated.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“collects essential information to facilitate a seamless parking experience.”

If we weren’t making bank off of selling all of your data, we might have to charge you more and that might cause a seam in our system. We’re making more than enough to not have to charge you, but then you might understand how much we’re actually making by spying on your entire life… just so you can park.

Anonymous Coward says:

What’s wrong is companies like Metropolis inserting friction unless people hand over data

Fixed that for you.

It isn’t friction to have a card swipe on exit … or to pay cash.

Until last year, "installing the app" wasn’t even an option I could reject, as my phone was a flip-phone. And… I don’t have credit/debit cards. Don’t accept legal tender? Having incurred a debt, they might have a problem with that. Of course, so might I.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It isn’t friction to have a card swipe on exit … or to pay cash.

Of course it’s friction. Once parking has a cost, one can no longer "just" park; one first has to evaluate whether the cost will be worth it. (So, I have to disagree with Tim: people are wrong to expect frictionless transactions, because once it’s a "transaction" there’s already inherent friction.)

Paid parking is, in fact, kind of a canonical example of friction. Business owners know people are discouraged when payment is required. It’s why they’re willing to waste so much land on giant free parking lots (or, in some cases, validate parking at nearby paid lots—though they’re aware the friction of this discourages people). And it’s one reason people prefer suburban shopping centers to urban shopping areas—I have several family members who will never shop downtown without very good reason, on account of the parking meters.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I have several family members who will never shop downtown
without very good reason, on account of the parking meters.

I won’t go downtown anymore, either, unless I can park in an off-street garage. Leaving your car on the streets of downtown L.A. now, you’re about 100% guaranteed to have it broken into by vagrants looking for things to sell for drugs. Some people I know who live downtown have stopped locking their cars so that when the inevitable robberies occur, the thieves at least don’t break their windows to do it.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

never shop downtown without very good reason, on account of the parking meters

Here in the City, we took out the parking meters a couple of decades ago. The merchants seem to be happier that way. The downtown shoppers are definitely happer that way. My clients are certainly happier that way.

The cost of the guy who goes by and chalks the tires is generally self-liquidating with the $9 tickets issued, though admittedly some folks get sore when they get one.

MikeVx (profile) says:

The stupid, it burns!

Paid parking is a resource allocation error message.

The presence of it makes an area no-go for me unless I have to deal with government agencies or am going to a highly-specialized event. For lack of a realistic choice I have the Detroit parking app, firewalled as heavily as I can manage.

Dearborn, Michigan scrapped paid parking years ago after the damage to businesses was figured out, but it is still a blank spot in my mental map, I have to think to remember it’s gone and usually go elsewhere for business. The "you can’t park there" reflex remains.

btr1701 (profile) says:

I've Parked Here

I actually parked in this garage in the past. Had the same experience. Some guy telling me to download an app on my phone to pay.

I told him my phone only makes phone calls and doesn’t do apps. He was speechless. Really caught him off guard and didn’t seem to know what to say.

I said I have cash and a credit card and he’s welcome to either one, but that’s the only way I have to pay him.

He took the card.

John C says:

Another data point for the conversation: Last week I parked in the Metropolis-serviced lot across from St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit. I did not have to download an app, and there was no attendant, only signs with QR codes at each space that redirected to the website.

I still had to sign up for an an account and provide license plate, phone number, and payment info as part of the mobile site’s registration, so I’m sure my data has already been sold, but the cancellation and data deletion process is onerous and took me the better part of an hour after reading this article.

To There are at least three email exchanges: first to begin the cancellation process, then to provide the phone number and a vehicle license plate on the account for ID verification, then to reply CANCEL to another follow-up email confirming cancellation. Onerous. Annoying.

The only reason I fell for the trap is because parking at that lot was $7 and the nearby ones attended by a human were $15-20.

Emelie (profile) says:

Revolting app.

If I was forced to use an app like this it would not survive very long.
Thankfully an app like this one is illegal here.
Wouldn’t be too hard to completely disable the app using various ways for instance ddos and advanced methods like protocol poisoning. I have a good feeling in my gut about the app will not see that coming. These sort of apps have zero security. Repeat for a few months and voila you can park a car without an app again and the app creator being sued to oblivion because the app doesn’t work and people want the creator to pay the parking tickets they have gotten.

On top of that publish a detailed report of the reverse engineering discoveries for instance in detail what it collects of the users. To really put the fear into the users and the app owners as well which will cause the complaints to roll in tsunami style. People tend to be too naive when it comes to these apps so educating them is the best thing you can do.

Other ways to protect yourself. Some android versions have a sandbox feature or sandbox app so you can put each app in its own sandbox and feed it fake data since some apps will refuse to work when it notices you have zero contacts like the facebook app.

Stay safe.

R Crane says:

Everyone despises Metropolis parking

Just got back from the Trader Joe’s in question. The system is supposed to be intuitive, but there are four Metropolis employees shivering at tables in the garage explaining how to use the system and the customers are letting loose on those employees!

The employees and managers at the store hate the system too. They’ve lost business because of it. People are avoiding the store because of the Metropolis parking system. I’ve been told that it’s being implemented on a trial basis, and that trial period should be ending soon. Which is good, because I’m not going to be a party to their data-mining bullshit.

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