App maker defends selling S.F. parking spots as a free speech issue
MonkeyParking deals in information, argues CEO – bull, says District Attorney's office
The head of embattled app-maker MonkeyParking says the city of San Francisco is violating the US Constitution by ordering the company to shut down its parking application.
Paolo Dobrowolny, CEO and cofounder of the company, said that the cease and desist order delivered by City Attorney Dennis Herrera misunderstands how the App operates.
"The real issue here is that a local ordinance is being misapplied to wrongfully target our service," Dobrowolny wrote.
"This is happening with our company and other companies operating in the social sharing space."
MonkeyParking, which operates in Rome and San Francisco, allows users to auction off parking spaces for prices ranging from $5 to $20. Drivers leaving their spaces coordinate with nearby drivers who are looking to park, and arrange the transfer.
Herrera said that MonkeyParking and two other Apps violate city ordinances that forbid the sale or rent of public property such as sidewalks and parking spaces, and that the company would be subject to legal action from the city if they don't shut down operations in San Francisco.
According to Dobrowolny and MonkeyParking's legal team, the App does not actually try to sell the rights to spaces, but rather brokers in information. Users only buy and sell information on when a spot would be opening up.
"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," Dobrowolny said.
"MonkeyParking is not in the business of selling or auctioning parking spots."
While no further action has been announced by the city, the MonkeyParking boss said that the firm is confident it would prevail if the matter goes to court.
"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," Dobrowolny said.
The City Attorney's office, however, is not buying the company's First Amendment defense.
"It's like a prostitute saying she's not selling sex – she's only selling information about her willingness to have sex with you," a spokesman for Hererra's office told The Reg.
"One could similarly imagine drug dealers avoiding 'intent to sell' charges by merely selling information about nearby illicit drugs that are actually available for free."
Clearly, the city is not going to bend the rules in this case, and barring a courtroom victory or change in San Francisco's police code, it looks like it's going to be curtains for MonkeyParking in the City by the Bay. ®