DoNotPay, the consumer advice company that started out helping people easily challenge parking tickets, has come a long way since it launched. It’s expanded to help consumers cancel memberships, claim compensation for missed flights and even sue companies for small claims. In the early days of the pandemic, the startup helped its users file for unemployment, where many state benefit sites crashed.
Now the so-called “robot lawyer” has a new trick. The startup now lets you request information from U.S. federal and state government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act.
FOIA allows anyone to request information from the government, with some exceptions. But ask anyone with experience in filing FOIAs (hello!) and they can tell you that requesting data requires skill and practice to avoid having the request thrown out for being too broad, or not being specific enough. And when you do eventually get something back, it might not be what you expect.
That’s where DoNotPay wants to help. The new feature guides you through how to file a request for information, as well as wrangle the fee waivers and option to expedite processing — which is up to you to convince the government department why you should get the information for free and faster than regular FOIA requests. (In reality, the FOIA system is massively under-resourced, and responses can take months or years to get back.) After asking you a series of questions and what you want to request, DoNotPay generates a formal FOIA request letter using your answers and files it to the government agency on your behalf.
DoNotPay’s founder and chief executive Joshua Browder said he’s hoping the new feature can help consumers “beat bureaucracy.”
“Hundreds of users have requested a FOIA product, because the government makes it deliberately difficult and bureaucratic to exercise these rights,” Browder told TechCrunch.
Browder said that DoNotPay “would not exist” without FOIA laws. “When we got started appealing parking tickets, we used previous requests to see the top reasons why parking tickets were dismissed,” he said. Browder said he’s hoping the feature will help consumers uncover more injustices — just like with parking tickets — to feed his product with more features. “The overall strategy is to use any interesting FOIA data to build great new DoNotPay products,” he said.
DoNotPay raised $12 million in its Series A earlier this year, led by investment firm Coatue Management, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund and and Felicis Ventures. The startup has 10 employees, including Browder, and is valued at about $80 million, the company confirmed.
The FOIA filing feature is free for academics and journalists, and is included as part of the company’s subscription service of $3 per month for everyone else.