Seattle developer Matt Steckler never thought he’d one day use his technical talents to compile arrest records on friends, co-workers and neighbors. But after a buddy discovered that a nanny had been convicted of a DUI, driving the kids around town without a valid license, Steckler set into action and Arrestly was born.
Quite simply, Arrestly allows individuals to track their Facebook friends and see which of them have been booked in county jails in 32 states across the country. An email notification is sent, for example, if an ex-boyfriend, babysitter or family member is booked in jail. Users of the service also can monitor those who aren’t in one’s personal Facebook network.
“You can interpret it as nefarious or in bad taste, but we consider it a public service to provide this data,” said Steckler, adding that the reception has been overwhelmingly positive since it debuted in late August.
“Everybody who uses it, loves it,” said Steckler, adding that they’re attracting about 50,000 monthly unique visitors. “It is not the business I ever thought I’d want to be in. But it is becoming more and more interesting. The amount of data we work with is really neat, and there are a lot of cool things we could do with that data that we are exploring.”
In this day and age, information that was once swept under the rug or appeared in small print in local newspapers has become accessible to anyone with a computer or mobile phone. You can track the sale of your neighbor’s home through Zillow or find out which restaurants have the worst health code reports through Dinegerous.
Do arrest records go too far? Steckler, for one, doesn’t think so. And, at the end of the day, the 35-year-old contractor at Microsoft thinks Arrestly is providing a lower-cost public service than background check providers such as Intelius.
“People want to know, and the bottom line is the information is already out there,” said Steckler, who previously ran Seattle startup Flauntable. “We just aggregate it and make it available. This isn’t information that is private by any means.”
About 2,300 people have signed up for Arrestly since it debuted. To date, it has compiled over 500,000 arrest records. The startup, which just raised a small angel financing round of less than $100,000, is working through some design and Facebook integration issues. Steckler spends about two hours a week on the project, which he describes as “very much” a part-time endeavor.
Steckler, for one, has received at least one arrest notification of a Facebook friend who was booked in jail for a DUI offense. The charge was dropped, and Steckler removed the name from the database.
“If you have been arrested and you were not charged, we will gladly remove the information,” he said.
Arrestly pulls its data from county jail records, working with the creator of PDXMugshots to grab the data. PDXMugshots was just the subject of a lengthy expose in Willamette Week, with some accusing it of modern-day extortion since it charges people to have their mug shots removed from the site.
Steckler, who met PDXMugshots creator Kyle Ritter at the University of Oregon, tells GeekWire that he’s not a fan of the mugshot removal business model.
“One day it occurred to me that the data could be repurposed into something actually useful, not tied to a nefarious business,” said Steckler.
Arrestly is free to use and Steckler is asking for feedback from the startup community on the best ways to monetize the service “in an ethical way.”