RTC’s Parking Cameras Are Security Risk, Some Users Say

by Karen Goff August 23, 2016 at 4:30 pm 27 Comments

RTC Parking signSeveral Reston Now readers have checked out the “Find My Car” kiosk now in use at Reston Town Center parking garages.

They don’t like what they — or pretty much anyone — can see.

The Find My Car electronic kiosk, touted by RTC owner Boston Properties as a perk of parking in the RTC garages, is aimed at helping you locate where you parked.

When you return to the garage, you can punch in your license plate number. The screen will show you a picture of your parked car, as well as info on space number.

Some users are calling that a violation of privacy, however.

Reston resident Mary Brett recently posted this on a local listserv and also messaged Boston Properties with her concerns:

“Yesterday, I became aware of the extremely dangerous ‘find your car’ computer in the garage next to Jackson’s. Once I typed my license plate number on the homepage, it revealed a very large, sharp photo of me exiting my vehicle alone. Once I tapped on the photo, it located my vehicle on a map.

Didn’t ANYONE realize that this machine is a stalker’s dream machine to hunt down prey?!? Angry ex? Bad boyfriend? Stalker? Robber? Rapist?”

The “Find My Car” software is part of the electronic upgrades that are being installed at Reston Town Center as paid parking prepares to go into effect on Sept. 12.

Parking will be $2 an hour on weekdays (Saturdays and Sundays remain free). RTC management is encouraging visitors to download the ParkRTC App for gateless and ticketless payment, as well as parking discounts and validation. There is also a LiveSafeRTC portion of the app, where visitors can report suspicious incidents and easily communicate with RTC security.

But some would-be visitors say they have issues with town center and the app developers, Passport Parking, having their credit card numbers, license plate numbers, and GPS location.

Brett calls the picture of her at RTC a “gross invasion of privacy.”

“Your seemingly innocent ‘innovation’ is both dangerous and a gross invasion of my privacy,” she told BP. “I never consented to you taking my photo, my vehicle’s photo, and providing this information to anyone perusing your public machine!”

“You have never provided visible security anywhere in the parking garages, and they are ripe for crime even without this ‘find your car’ insanity. Did no one have any common sense in this decision? You need to disconnect these machines immediately!”

Another reader points out that one does not even need to visit the town center to see where a car is parked.

Said the reader, who asked we not use his name:

“Anyone in the world can literally look up whether or not you are parked at RTC and specifically where you car is located by entering you plate into the app, Park Assist [which is affiliated with the system].  Here is a screen shot:”

ParkAssist Screenshot

“Imagine if you are an executive of Google or Rolls Royce or Leidos or other high-profile tenants at RTC and someone wants to stalk you,” he said. “All they have to do is to download the app and type in your plate.”

“What if you are a female and have a restraining order against someone? That creeper can check the app to find your exact parking space just by typing in your plate. He can then park next to you and wait for you to come back to your car. There are zero security measures on this.”

Kathy Walsh, spokesman for BP’s parking rollout, said the Park Assist Park Finder technology has been used in more than 50 sites globally. She says it has been used by Westfield Malls, General Growth Properties, Fort Lauderdale Airport and many more without incident.

“Additionally, according to Park Assist, a number of sites actually deploy the Find Your Car technology for enhanced security, to avoid customers looking for their cars late at night in a parking garage,” Walsh said in an e-mail. “Park Assist also points out that someone looking for another person’s car can just as easily do that by physically walking around, whether the system is in place or not.”

  • John

    BP doesn’t care about your privacy. BP is collecting personal information so they can monetize it. The app gives BP the right to monetize any information it collects. Its a money grab by BP. Say goodbye to your privacy as the BP app uses bluetooth to track you through RTC and then cameras to track you car.

    • 30yearsinreston

      I’m not giving them the opportunity

  • meh

    Walsh fails to realize that el creepo can now find out where you’re parked before leaving his home. Just imagine, you write up a nice little script to hit the app every 30-45 minutes and punch in the plate. If it rings positive, it sends an alert to el-creepo and now he knows to swing on over to RTC to be a slime ball.

    Ya, before he’d have to walk the whole parking lot. But now the process has been streamlined.

    Great job Boston Properties.

    • Guest

      Good observations. And scripts are easily distributed.

      And we should anticipate network effects. This is like a security company publicly streaming its video footage online (true for some systems!), but now with a handy searchable index that automatically tags individuals.

      It could sprout a new social scene.

      I want nothing more than to be proven wrong about this.

  • 30yearsinreston

    Privacy and data concerns obviously were not a priority for BP
    Its all about the money

    Anyone who uses their stalking app is a fool
    They should be paying the user for their data about khopping habits

    • John

      Data was a big concern for BP. Their plan was to gather as much private data as possible so they can monetize it. You are product BP is selling. Good luck with the app.

      • 30yearsinreston

        I’m not using it

  • Nate_VA

    It just keeps getting better and better…

  • John

    BP can and will monetize all private data collected through their intrusive app. It says so right in the privacy policy for the app. They share (i.e. sell) your private information to ANY service provider that supports their business. That means anyone that pays them money and supports your business they will and can sell any of the private information such as tracking history, credit card, license plates, car information, etc to that service provider.


    Disclosure of Your Information

    We may disclose aggregated information about our users without restriction. In addition, we may disclose personal information that we collect or you provide in the following ways:

    We share information with parking and transit providers in order for you to use their parking and transit services and to support their management and enforcement process.
    Service Providers. We share information with contractors, service providers and other third parties we use to support our business.
    Change in corporate ownership. We share information with a buyer or other successor in the event of a merger, divestiture, restructuring, reorganization, dissolution or other sale or transfer of some or all of Passport Parking, Inc.’s assets, whether as a going concern or as part of bankruptcy, liquidation or similar proceeding, in which personal information is among the assets transferred.
    To protect rights and safety. If we believe disclosure is necessary or appropriate to protect the rights, property, or safety of Passport Parking, Inc., our customers or others.
    For legal purposes. To comply with any court order, law or legal process, including to respond to any government or regulatory request.
    To our subsidiaries and affiliates.
    For any other purpose we disclose when you provide the information.
    Otherwise with your consent.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Just one more reason to not patronize RTC.

  • Dave

    We didn’t ask for this and we don’t want it!!!!!!

    • cosmo

      I don’t think anyone would ever “ask” for paid parking. It’s a business decision made by BP. Maybe not a good one, but time will tell.

  • Newport

    Wow this is just adding to the list of reason why I or any other single woman I know will head to RTC on a Thursday or Friday evening. 50 site across the globe! THAT is their metrics? How many of those site have evening night life, crime rate ratios, and creepy ex’s/boyfriends etc… what are the metrics for the crime rate before and after it was installed. What if a crime is in action will the camera take a still pic or will it deploy security/police? I think not…….

  • anon

    If you have a stalker, this might suck. But if you don’t, this is a very useful feature. There should be an opt-out so, if your license plate is identified, the data isn’t public or maybe not stored at all. Obviously, there are cameras everywhere at this point, so the video existing is hard to be upset about. Being publicly retrievable using something as publicly known and identifiable as a license plate is the problem.

    • meh

      I’ts worse than that, it’s all the data that’s being mined and aggregated. Boston Properties will know the make & model of each car that spends time there along with how often its there.

      Very useful information to get an idea of demographics. Of course, this information isn’t going to just be available to Boston Properties. Oh, no! They’ll sell that off to anyone that has cash in hand.

      There’s nothing useful about this information being sold off to 3rd parties. And this is just the low impact results of the environment. Far more nefarious deeds could take place if someone wanted to.

      • anon

        That’s true of the data being generated by everything. Apple or Google owns all the data generated and aggregated by your smartphone. The credit card company has all the data generated by your credit card. That’s all being sold and traded too. If this is a concern of yours, these cameras probably aren’t the worst of it.

      • I learned about this system when I saw it installed at Aventura Mall near Miami. I noticed the red/green/blue (red=occupied, green=vacant, blue=handicapped) LEDs and thought it was a really cool way to help people find parking spots. So I googled the device name “Park Assist” and their site came right up.

        There’s a nice little app where you can look up the status of parking lots everywhere in the world. And as noted you can look up the status of your car in the app, although Aventura Mall doesn’t seem to be allowing it. Too bad, I thought, I’d really love the functionality to look up my car. As a middle-aged man who is sadly uninteresting to women, I’m not worried about stalkers so that concern didn’t cross my mind. Aventura Mall happens to be women-owned so it’s possible the owner Jackie Soffer was more sensitive to this stalking concern and left the feature off.

        I have to admit, my impressions of the system were positive. Seems like a really nice, well thought out piece of hardware/software. Definitely makes it easier for me to find parking spaces. From my viewpoint, maybe it’s worth the sacrifice in privacy to know where my car is at all times.

        So okay, scare me. For the last week I have visited Aventura Mall’s food court three times. Honestly I really love the super-fancy new wing, which looks roughly like a idealized airplane terminal from the golden age of aviation. Comfy seating, really nice food options, etc. Aforementioned Jackie Soffer knows what she is doing. (The poor girl is only worth US$2.2 billion, and I think most of that is Aventura Mall.) So Aventura Mall has three-odd pictures of my car going in and out of the space. They know the person with my license plate number has visited Aventura Mall, always parking near the food court.

        Assuming that I have no criminal record and have not stolen my car or broken immigration laws, what harm could them having that information possibly do me? My privacy has been reduced, for sure. What consequences does it have?

    • Guest

      Funny thing about stalkers. In the presence of publicly available tracking information like this, they tend to spring forth fully formed. Like Athena. And BP’s implementation sure is a mother of a headache.

    • Why do you bother?

      I’ll be using the ultimate opt-out: OH, HELL NO.

  • anon

    My favorite part about all the whining about paying one’s fair share towards the $30-40k/space it costs to build parking is that parking demand that was built up by new area residents and relieved by RTC’s free parking for the past decade or so is all going to instantly pour into the “free” parking everyone’s holding up as an alternative, guaranteeing it won’t be “free” for long.

    • Newport

      Guess we will all park at Best Buy for a while

      • Why do you bother?

        Nah. No need to cheat. I just won’t patronize RTC.

      • anon

        If the parking fills up, they’ll start charging. That’s how this works. At least, until they end up building large mixed-use structures on the lot anyway, since surface parking lots are a waste of space. Then they’re back to $30-40k (if above ground) or $80-90k (if below ground) per space in construction costs they’ll need to recoup eventually.

        People need to stop being upset about the present and be upset that the past has made us think of parking as “free” when it was really a hidden tax we never even had the benefit of seeing line items for.

  • James Schaeffer Jr.

    We are done, rtc no more, all my family, all my friends, and their families, and everyone that will listen at work… can you say ghost town?

  • Mookie Taylor

    I wish they had this technology when my significant other was cheating on me! 😉

  • Generic User

    Just tipped off the Washington Post to this story. If they write about it, could create some uncomfortable questions and press for BP.

  • Why do you bother?

    Unfortunately, when she chose to park there, she chose to have her privacy violated. There is only one solution…sing it with me, kids….


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