Web scraping is a controversial topic among digital marketing professionals. It has existed since the dawn of the internet and can be used for a wide range of applications, both legitimate and harmful. It is the process that search engines use to index websites, as well as a way for spam bots to gather personal information or pull content from a website. Here is a breakdown of web scraping, and whether or not it is a legal practice.
What Is Web Scraping?
Web scraping is basically the process of extracting valuable data from a website. This data is then collected and translated to a more usable format. Also known as data extraction, it is used by many people and businesses who want to gain useful information about web data to make better, more efficient decisions.
In the process of web scraping, data is extracted and then stored so it can be analyzed, or exploited. Tons of information can be collected by doing this, like contact data
including email addresses and telephone numbers, as well as individual search terms and URLS.
Why is Web Scraping Used?
Web scraping allows for contact information or special information to be accessed and collected quickly. It is commonly used in the workplace to obtain information about competitors to gain an advantage over them. Data harvesting allows companies to view all of their competitors products so they can compare them to their own.
Web scraping is an easier way to gather as much information as possible, and give companies who are launching campaigns something to work with. Web scraping ensures that data is available in one space rather than having to hunt for data in a ton of different spaces.
As long as web scraping is done ethically and safely, companies can usually get by without facing any legal issues.
Is Web Scraping Illegal?
Web scraping is not always legal, and the copyrights of the website need to be taken into consideration. There is a fine line between web scraping and hacking, and sometimes people can be sued for hacking a website when they’re intentions were not to cause any harm.
Some lawyers point out that there is no specific law about web scraping, and attorneys are forced to find other means of litigating. According to McCarthy Garber Law, LLC, “Since no law directly applies to web scraping, and courts aren’t inclined to invent new laws, plaintiffs’ lawyers have been forced to get creative in trying to explain to courts why web scraping is a violation of existing laws. In so doing, lawyers have attempted to shoehorn a wide range of legal theories and frameworks into web-scraping litigation.”
In 2010, Andrew Auernheimer, a 26 year old was convicted of hacking and collecting 114,000 email addresses of iPad users stored by AT&T. He claimed that the purpose of web scraping was to help protect users and expose their security flaws, but instead he was charged with hacking.
Craigslist also sued a company called Instamotor for scraping its content to create their own listings, and Instamotor had to pay 31 million dollars to craigslist.
As you can probably tell, web scraping can become a huge legal issue if not done properly and ethically, which is why you have to be very careful when web scraping.
How To Web Scrape Safely
There are many things to take into account when conducting web scraping in a safe manner. So let’s break it down into categories:
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
It’s crucial that you are not accessing the data in an abusive fashion, and as long as you do not use the same data for commercial purposes, you are not violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
When you scrape data from the web, you can be accessing data that is protected from copywriting. As long as you are not using the same data that you are scraping to publish on the web and re-use, then you are not violating copyright laws. Scraping is not technically illegal, but in some cases, like reusing information that has already been posted, is illegal.
According to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, “It is also worth noting the general copyright principle that, although compilations of facts can be protected by copyright, authors may not copyright their ideas or the facts they narrate. Accordingly, if the data scraped are purely facts without a creative component, then there is no copyright claim.”
Trespass To Chattel
We all are aware that you cannot trespass onto someone’s property in real life, and it is the same with website data. Entering another company’s site and using it for unethical purposes can get you into serious trouble.
It’s possible that you make the mistake of damaging the website or causing harm in any way, which is offensive to the site. You have to make sure that you are not entering the space and abusing it in any way. As long as you are not harming the website, it is not illegal.
Terms of Service
It’s important that you are not violating the terms of service, because if they clearly state that web scraping is not allowed, then you could be facing legal consequences. There is always the option to ask for written permission to web scrape so you know that you won’t face any legal issues.
Terms of service usually states clearly that they do not allow web scraping, so be sure to check that out before doing anything.
Going Into Private Data
Learn the difference between public data and private data, because many people think that they are going into public data when it is really private. There are definitely some aspects of property on websites that are private and not available for someone to access.
If you knowingly go beyond public data into private information and scrape that data, you could potentially face some issues. Look out for if something requires login information, because if it does then it most certainly is private data.
So stick to public data to avoid the risk of getting yourself into sticky situations.
To Wrap Things Up
Overall, web scraping is something that can be extremely risky, and if not done properly can definitely lead to some hefty lawsuits.
The main question is how to scrape website data the ethical way, without disrupting the site, violating any rules, or causing any harm.
Web scraping has its pros and cons, but if done unethically it can land anyone in some serious legal trouble. Hopefully by following some of these guidelines it will ensure that you are scraping safely, so it is definitely important to do your research on the topic in order to see if it’s safe for you and your company.