Parking: The pay by phone system is in place at several lots. Matthew Hall

The Metropolis App is currently in use in seven lots across Santa Monica–where the tech company is headquartered.

Metropolis Technologies CEO and Santa Monica native Alex Israel said his company’s new system for parking is designed “to try to make it better for consumers, and try to make it better for local retailers” but the system is meeting resistance from some users.

Metropolis’ app asks users to enter information like their vehicle’s license plate number and credit card. After registration, you’re all set to start paying to park at any of the company’s “hundreds of locations” across the country, including seven in the Santa Monica area. While you can download a specific app, users can also choose to access Metropolis through any web browser on a smartphone.

Israel said the idea for the company came about when he and a couple of local friends were riding bicycles around Santa Monica and thinking about how inefficient parking is locally.

“We found that most people that are looking for parking can’t find parking and they have a really hard time paying for it,” Israel said. “So, we wanted to make it generally easier for the consumer at large.”

But some Santa Monicans don’t see it that way.

Neighborhood social media pages have lit up recently with complaints over the use of the app in several parking lots along Montana Avenue including at the Whole Foods on Montana near 15th Street.

“Not giving them my data to sell yet again so I can run errands in my neighborhood,” one neighbor posted on Nextdoor.

“This app is nuts,” another complained.

“It’s a new way to sell your data,” a third wrote. “We are being pimped out 5 ways from Sunday in terms of our shopping and buying patterns…….. remember if any of these online services are free to use; then you are the product…”

More than 1,000 people had signed a digital petition demanding “Whole Foods, Starbucks, Peets, Bank of America, and all other businesses in whose lots this Metropolis Parking App has now been installed to demand the landlords remove this parking requirement.” The petition announced that those who signed would “stop frequenting” the businesses until the app was removed.

The founder of the petition, who was identified only by the initials EL, said the petition would be delivered to the businesses once the goal of 1,000 signatures had been met.

Of primary concern is the issue of privacy; according to Metropolis’ user agreement, the app is authorized to track browsing activity “across different websites and different devices or apps,” noting that, “​​to do this, our technology partners may share data, such as your browsing patterns, geo-location and device identifiers, and will match the information of the browser and devices that appear to be used by the same person.”

The app is authorized to collect users’ “precise location information, such as the location where you park … the duration of your stay, and the date and time at which you were at [the] location.”

Residents are wary of offering permission, despite company promises that data is secure.

“Metropolis does not sell, share or license user data. Full stop, period,” Metropolis spokesperson Corey Owens said in response to those concerns. Israel agreed.

While he couldn’t speak on behalf of specific companies he doesn’t own, Israel said he believed Metropolis’ privacy policy to be industry standard.

“I can’t speak to what every other technology company does in the entire industry, but I can say our policies are pretty standard. I would say that what we do is we gather data to provide our services and to provide value to customers,” Israel said. “We don’t utilize that data to license or sell it to marketing partners. That’s not the goal here. We are what you see. We are a parking application that makes parking easier to find and easy to pay for across the United States, and across Santa Monica. And we’re utilizing that data to make life easier for consumers, not to find ways to monetize that data.”

He added that he can understand why there’s distrust because people are really used to having difficult, complicated or dubious experiences in parking but said, “that’s not what we do.”

There’s irony in the situation as the Metropolis team envisions the app as a way to streamline parking to avoid the sometimes cumbersome use of machines or cash payments but some residents see the app as an additional hassle as they go about their neighborhood errands.

One resident said he wouldn’t download the app just to shop at his local store. Another said it seemed discriminatory because it required a smart phone in order to park.

Though Metropolis does collect service fees from interactions, Israel said they are waived when parking is fully validated. However, it is service fees and some landlord agreements that generate revenue for the company. “There’s no other hidden ways that we make money. There’s no other surprises.”

Though two Nextdoor threads generated hundreds of comments in support of boycotting the app–and businesses whose landlords subscribe to it–representatives from the NOMA Neighborhood Association said they were not familiar with any complaints about the new parking system.

emily@smdp.com