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.)