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Parking: There’s an App for That

Wed, 01/27/2021 - 19:20


Sag Harbor Village appears ready to hand Main Street and Long Wharf over to a private corporation to manage paid parking during the summer months in a major change taken without a trial run or enough public input before the contract stage. The Villages of East Hampton and Southampton are also moving rapidly toward using the same company to handle parking in their own lots and business district streets. While we support the general idea of charging for parking in some areas, there is inadequate proof that a smartphone app solution is the right approach.

Privacy is among our top concerns: In order to park, drivers would need to create an account, handing over credit card information, to a company that would know when and where they had been. ParkMobile, the company that has caught Sag Harbor and other villages’ attention, collects drivers’ names, phone numbers, email addresses, vehicle information, and “any other information you give us,” its privacy policy states. The company admits in its policy posted on its website that it does not guarantee the security of their personal information. Most other parking app providers collect similar data about you, including some web browsing details.

The apps also can selectively share your data with third parties, including law enforcement, and “relevant advertising on and off our services; and administering your participation in contests, sweepstakes and promotions,” in ParkMobile’s case. This would open users’ devices to targeted ads, based on the information collected each time they park, by sharing commercial information and internet or other electronic network activity with advertising networks and website analytics companies.

ParkMobile’s policy states that users’ data, including personal information, will also be given to the respective local governments. It may also unilaterally opt to release information to investigators or to “protect the safety, rights, or property” of the public or individuals. Avoiding these by-default privacy intrusions requires users to decide in advance what optional information they wish to hand to the companies and which they do not. App users can also remove “cookies” from their phones placed by the companies to collect their data, something not easy for most people to figure out.

Process, obviously, is another concern: As an East Hampton Village resident pointed out, the parking systems would require a smartphone — and the wherewithal to install and use the app. A promised toll-free telephone line to set up an account and park would be almost as intrusive and require that drivers actually have phones.

Respective village officials have not thought through the chaos among visitors from out of town suddenly trying to download the program. There may also be a legal issue with forcing people to adopt a specific technology in order to use a public asset, such as municipal parking — and there certainly is the troubling ethical violation of compelling the sharing of private information just to grab lunch or do a little shopping. In 2019, a parking app in England had to be taken offline after it was found to have exposed tens of millions of license plate images to a potential data breach. Last year another parking company’s customer data was posted online in a ransomware attack.

There are alternatives. New York City’s credit-card-operated parking meters, which allow drivers to pay for time in advance and place a paper receipt on dashboards is simpler and reduces privacy problems.


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