The San Francisco Police Department, Google, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and others announced last week that they’d joined forces for an event intended to combat bicycle theft. It sounds like a good thing, and a useful workshop– except that Google decides who gets in.
The 2nd Bike Theft Workshop is scheduled to kick off at Google’s SF offices at 345 Spear Street at 6 PM on Monday December 10.
“The workshop will offer speakers from the San Francisco Police Department on topics ranging from how authorities investigate bike theft to tips and tricks on protecting your bicycle,” according to SFPD. What they don’t mention is that those who create content for Google are apparently offered priority access to the event.
According to the RSVP page for the event, admission to the bicycle theft event is guaranteed only if community members include a link to their Google Plus Local profile with five or more reviews.
“No. I didn’t do any new reviews, so I understand I’ll only receive a spot if there’s additional room left over,” states one of the required checkboxes on the page.
None of the San Francisco city officials who organized the event, it seems, knew about the marketing language Google inserted on the RSVP page.
“You know you try and do something good, you try and do something for the community and something like this happens,” Officer Carlos Manfredi, an SFPD spokesperson told The Appeal in apparent frustration.
The SFPD believed the workshop was open to members of the community, and everyone in the community was able to attend. “That’s what the flyer said,” Manfredi said.
The police department even sent an alert to media promoting the event, a release that was picked up and reported on by local publications like SF Weekly.
The officer spearheading the program, Matt Friedman also didn’t know about the additional marketing language.
But, Friedman made clear, “If you RSVP you will definitely get a spot.”
He told The Appeal that an RSVP is necessary for security and catering reasons. “Everyone who goes needs a [security] badge to get in,” he said. The space where the event is being held has a capacity of 200 people, he said.
It’s worth nothing, however, that at the same event last year only 25 people showed up, reports the Weekly.
When contacted by The Appeal, the SF Bike Coalition’s communications director Kristin Smith said that she didn’t know that only Google Plus Local reviewers were guaranteed a spot at the event. She said that the SFBC was involved but was not running the workshop.
Smith contacted the event’s coordinator, Bike Coalition deputy director Kit Hodge, and forwarded a comment via email.
Hodge said that the Bike Coalition will be there to share best practices, but that, “As Google is the organizer and hosting the event, you’ll need to check in with them about the specifics of their RSVP…”
Jordan Newman, a Google spokesperson, declined to comment on their mandated VIP list.
Google launched its Plus Local service, a Yelp competitor, in May signaling its intention to put its acquisition of the Zagat consumer-generated reviews publisher to use on its Google branded web properties.
Bike theft is a big problem in San Francisco, maybe because it’s a relatively risk free crime.
But, Friedman said that the SFPD is taking bike thefts a lot more seriously now. “I had a report of a [stolen] bicycle worth over $10,000, that’s a felony,” he said.
Friedman tells the Appeal that as of Thursday, 120 people have RSVPed for the event. No word yet on how many of those 120 provided the Google-mandated set of reviews.