Jerktech: Silicon Valley's most shameful export


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Seems like the only real distinction between these two things is whether you can muster any empathy for the victims of the “disruption”.

Which would be fine I guess if there was any sort of moral sense to who you were able to empathize with. But that’s not what we get. Instead, we have disruptive tech that makes parking or reserving restaurant tables getting labeled “jerktech”, while disruptive tech putting teachers and cabbies and basically every other decent paying middle class job in the country out of business is cheered on.

That even the tech folks who think they’re grappling with these issues (like the TechCrunch writer) think these minor inconveniences are worthy of outrage, but not destroying the country’s middle class through automation, is beyond depressing. They’re destroying the world and all they can think of to be outraged by is their parking difficulties.


This article seems spot on to me: as a SF resident I’m well aware of the Monkey Park brouhaha, and yes, fuck those guys. The City is cracking down: good. For the record: I have a smart phone, I could even pay if I had to…so what. The parking game is first come, first served: open eyes, quick reflexes. The dude in the beater Sentra should have as much chance for a spot as someone in a Maserati.

The reservation thieves are even worse: for the business model to work, I assume they would have to make many fake reservations at many restaurants and hope to hook some desperate diners and skim off the top: meanwhile the restaurants lose business every single day. My wife works in a restaurant, the margins are damn thin and the pay is not spectacular; so here come some slimy little fuckwits with an app and a plan to make life harder for my spouse and every other hard working person in the industry so they can make a buck? Ohhhh the exquisite profanities I am suppressing. The hopes for office wide Legionnaires Disease, or lasting herpes outbreak…nope, I’ll even refrain from that too…

But I do hope that whatever powers that be who can quash this TheftTech (because that’s what it really is) throw the goddamn library at these assholes.


Capitalism is a machine for rationalizing human behavior. All human behavior. Now, some things, like concert tickets, parking spaces, love, and restaurant reservations have, thus far, remained irrational. We related to them outside of the market, they were seen as things you couldn’t reduce to a simple dollar value. Sure, there was money involved, but the parking space was worth more than the $2 it costed to park there. How much more? We never bothered to put a price on it.

But that is, of course, an outrage, because irrational behaviors are inefficient, and inefficiency is unacceptable. Everything in theory has a precise value, and therefore everything should have a precise price, so that people with money can efficiently buy and sell it. The only reason these particular interactions remained outside the market is because the technology didn’t exist to commodify them.

Now that we have ubiquitous handheld computers, the market will inevitably commodify more things, just as it has already commodified so much of our life, and just like it will enclose all the other irrationalities as soon as technology makes it possible.

Your feelings about the specific instance - whether they’re jerky or reasonable - are irrelevant. Capitalism doesn’t care how you feel, it literally cannot do anything else. You’re seeing the behaviors of a machine that was created to do exactly this kind of thing. The only alternative is to destroy the machine.


Re: restaurant reservations.

Make either a CC or email address mandatory. If they give a CC they are likely legit, and those are easily trackable (even burner cards). If they leave an email, all is well.

Batch over your reservation lists daily to a anti-fraud foundation I will set up, and I will tell you a) burner cells/Skype, b),burner CCs, and most interestingly c) burner email addresses. (Burner emails are easier than you’d think).

That would put reservation scammi^C^C^C disruption too expensive to be profitable.

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The difference is that services like Uber actually offer something new: it’s offering an alternative to a traditional cab ride. That service may have downsides of its own but it’s not forcing you to pay more money for the same ride in the same cab you were going to take anyway.

By contrast the “jerktech” apps aren’t creating more parking spaces or concert tickets or restaurant reservations, they’re just adding another paywall that doesn’t do squat for the people who are actually providing the service you’re after.


Sweetch actually sounds reasonable to me, because you’re only paying $1 for the spot. Most people can afford that, and the time it saves is well worth it. The app that let’s spots be auctioned is terrible, as is the practice of selling restaurant reservations. It’s exactly why Apple had to require an Apple ID login to make an appointment at the ‘genius bar’ - people were selling those!

The parking spot is public property. Individuals shouldn’t be able to buy or sell it at all.

If I’m done using a picnic table in a busy park I’m not going to keep sitting there until someone else pays me to leave, because that picnic table is a public resource and it would be a total dick move to charge other people to use something that doesn’t belong to me.


There is a large difference between stealing and then selling a public good, and offering a service that didn’t exist that is better than what currently exists. Snagging parking spots and reservations is doing nothing but stealing what were already public goods. Offering a better cab service than the shitty mayoral bribery scheme that is the madalon system on the other hand is a new good.

Disruption of any flavor creates and destroys jobs. The Internet hurts network TV. MP3s hurt radio jobs. So sure, Uber puts cabbies out of business and mayors have to struggle to find another way to bribe influential businessmen, but it also creates Uber drives and (more importantly) makes transit inside of the city easier. Easier transit inside the city means that people go out more and longer, which creates more jobs. You can argue the balance of Uber. I think it is obviously better than a system that is literally that is built from the ground up for city mayors to bribe people, but you can disagree. There can be no disagreement that stealing public goods and selling them does jack shit. It almost certainly does damage as it encourages people to steal goods they would not otherwise steal to resell them.

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You have a most unusual definition of stealing, and I do not think the US legal system would agree with you.

How about “Bogarting?”

Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof; or

Whoever receives, conceals, or retains the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, purloined or converted—

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; but if the value of such property in the aggregate, combining amounts from all the counts for which the defendant is convicted in a single case, does not exceed the sum of $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

The word “value” means face, par, or market value, or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.

Read the bolded text. Your parking spot is not property of the United States, it is property of your municipality. But if it were a federally owned parking spot, yes it would be theft of public property. And it is not a stretch to guess that states have similar laws that would apply to state and municipal property. The moment you sell it, it attains a market value, and thus becomes a “thing of value” that you are stealing. This is not an odd definition of theft, it is a very plain one. I hope people start getting arrested (note, as others have above, Uber has nothing to do with any of this).


I disagree - I think it’s quite a stretch.

If I park in a parking spot, I have not “stolen” it. If I call you and tell you there’s a parking spot, I still haven’t “stolen” it. Not even if you give me $20. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to “steal” a parking spot without a jackhammer. Even if it’s a handicapped spot, I’m getting a ticket, not jail time.

Want an interesting parallel? In Philadelphia, if you shovel snow out of a parking spot, you consider it “yours” and stake your claim with garbage cans and patio furniture and even stolen cones. That’s a whole lot closer to “stealing” a parking spot - and yet I don’t think they ever prosecute anybody, ever. If you move the cones and park anyway, your car will be vandalized; and they never seem to catch the guy who done it, even though his house is right there.

If I’m wrong about this, we would have seen lots of people going to jail long before now. Folks who sell USGS maps, for example, or who use the public airwaves for private profit, maybe even accountants who convert a Federal form 1040 into very substantial private value.

IANAL, but I suspect the reason District Attorneys aren’t trying these people for theft is because they don’t think it’s theft. If it’s a violation of Federal (or state) regulations, you will see fines levied and C&D letters in the mail - but it’s a long walk from there to criminal charges.

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I’m just going to quote exactly the same law I quoted above:

I don’t get it. Do you think that a person remaining in a parking spot until someone else pays them to leave is neither converting that spot to their use nor selling it? I think when you take money from someone in exchange for something you are selling that thing. The law reads very clearly to me.

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Those are poor analogies because in each case the person making a profit has provided an additional service that did not previously exist. Auctioning off a parking spot does not create a new parking spot, and the person who profits from that transaction has zilch to do with the people who created or maintain said parking spot.

Asking for money to leave a parking spot is providing a service in the same sense that asking for “protection money” to not burn down your business is providing a service. Everyone would be better off if said “service provider” didn’t exist at all.

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I agree. I just don’t think anybody’s going to jail. There’s a clear legal definition for theft, and one for extortion, but being a dick is not a crime. If it was, I would be standing in line for the pay phone.

However, if the park is crowded and I can find no table at which to feed my cross wife, insane toddlers and screaming baby, I would gladly pay $5 to find out who is brushing the crumbs off their table and ready to depart, so as not to be on the opposite side of the park looking for non-existant tables and watch some johnny-just-arrived swoop in.

Is this really the scenario, that people are wasting hours a day sitting in parking spots until somebody will give them $5 for it?

Or is this the fantasy scenario that justifies outrage?

I find it hard to believe that somebody in such a hurry and able to pay $20 to find a just-opened parking space is likely to hang around for a considerable period of time to make back only a portion of their outlay. Their time is worth more than that, or they wouldn’t have (been able to) shell out in the first place.

OTOH, without data that’s a fantasy scenario, as well.

I’m willing to accept that the behaviour is largely fictional. I only chimed in to object to @Boundegar’s contention that it was an unusual definition of stealing, since it seems that there are criminal laws on the books called “theft of public property” that exist specifically to deal with this kind of thing. If no one is doing it then no crime is being committed.

It wouldn’t be the same person.
If this app took off it would make it profitable for other people to take up parking spots, just to get the $20 to move. With the low minimum wages in the USA, this would earn them much more money than actually working at a real job.