The legality of web scraping is a hotly debated topic as it relates to another burning issue of our times - online privacy.
Furthermore, web scraping is a quintessential data extraction method and can often be misused. This is where the controversy comes in. There is a fine line between legal or ethical web scraping and illegal or unethical web scraping.
So to answer the question, “Is web scraping legal?” The answer is yes, but you must stringently comply with data privacy laws and regulations and stick to the best practices.
What is Web Scraping?
Web Scraping is a data extraction method that collects data and information from websites using bots called scrapers. It can be done manually and automatically, but the automated method is more common as it’s infinitely faster and more efficient. Scrapers automatically extract data and store it organised per the user's requirements.
What Are the Methods of Web Scraping?
There are mainly two methods of web scraping:
- Manual Extraction: This is the less popular method of web scraping. It is a considerably slow process. Individuals extract data without the help of bots and tools, so it is a very time-consuming process. And that makes this scraping method much less appealing. However, this is often the only way to extract data in certain cases because many websites have anti-scraping protection, which prevents the effectiveness of bots and scraping tools.
- Automated Extraction: This is the most widely used method of scraping data online. It is certainly the most convenient form of web scraping. As it is fully automated and carried out by bots, it saves significant time and makes manual scraping completely redundant.
Now let's take a look at how it works:
How to Web Scrape?
Web scraping is done by using scrapers and tools known as bots. This is how they generally work:
- First, the targeted websites are selected, and their URLs are obtained.
- The URLs are fed to the bots, and the bot starts processing.
- All the information on that website, starting from HTML, CSS, to even JS, is loaded and rendered.
- The user may also specify certain data by mentioning it to the bot.
The bot then collects and organises the specified data per the user's requirements.
What is the Use/Purpose of Web Scraping?
There is a wide range of uses for Web Scraping. Let me mention a few major ones:
Machine Learning and AI
Machine learning and AI fuel the technological wonders of tomorrow, such as self-driving cars, space flight, photo identification, and voice recognition. However, to succeed, Machine Learning systems need to be fed data constantly. That is the only way to improve their precision and reliability regarding predictions and calculations. So acquiring raw data becomes crucial for the continued development and improvement of machine learning and AI. And since web scraping can extract large amounts of data quickly, it is used to feed data into machine learning and AI systems.
Web Scraping can be an effective way to improve SEO. It can be used to monitor and optimise your website against competitors.
When used properly, the data extracted from scraping can be used to improve the ranking and organic traffic to websites.
Web scraping is a quintessential tool for market research. Data like consumer trends, demands, reviews, etc., can easily be acquired using scraping tools to conduct in-depth research and analysis.
Social Media Trends
These days, instead of interviewing and surveying people one by one, you can get much more accurate data by simply using web scraping in a much quicker time frame. You can get information on millions of social media users easily and, more importantly, quickly. However, this is a sensitive area as personal data and information is involved here. So, caution is necessary to maintain legality when scraping social media sites.
You may be interested in gathering and evaluating data on a certain category from several websites. For instance, you may want to quickly get a snapshot of the price of real estate in your city or area. Web scraping can extract the relevant data from the web and give you a summary view.
Moreover, you can get such insights and intelligence for real estate, automobiles, electrical gadgets, industrial equipment, commercial partnerships, marketing, and other industries.
Besides these, there are countless other uses for web scraping. Now let's take a look at the legality of web scraping:
Is Web Scraping Illegal?
Web Scraping has always been in a grey area of legality. While scraping and crawling are legal, web scraping can be considered illegal in certain cases. Usually, it is not illegal to scrape websites to extract information and data that is open to the public. In other words, you can almost always extract data that has been made freely available for all to use.
That being said, if a website’s terms of service are violated by web scraping or if the personal data of other individuals are extracted and used without permission, web scraping can become illegal.
To maintain the laws concerning data privacy and stay within the legal boundaries when employing web scraping tools. Moreover, there are a few ethical things you also need to follow. It includes rules and best practices to avoid falling on the wrong side of the law while scraping data online.
These are good practices to be followed and maintained in Web Scraping.
- Never overflood the servers.
- Respect the Robot.txt file
- Concealing your IP.
- Avoid plagiarism.
- Maintain copyright laws.
- Do not scrape data or crawl sites during peak hours.
- Using API when it is available instead of scraping.
- Reroute all requests by using proxies.
- Carefully check the Terms and Conditions and Terms of Service of the website.
- Try to get consent if possible.
- Avoid scraping personal data.
- Avoid scraping copyrighted data.
- Be transparent.
- Always securely handle scraped data.
What Kind of Web Scraping is Illegal?
The following things are illegal when it comes to web scraping:
- Scraping data from websites that don’t allow such practices without consent.
- Extraction of personal data that is deemed illegal to obtain without consent
- Anything that violates the GDPR or General Data Protection Regulations that apply to most European countries.
- Anything that violates CCPA or California Consumer Policy Act.
- Anything that violates CFAA or Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
- Scraping copyrighted data.
- Scraping data that require logging in for access.
Now that you have a clearer idea of what web scraping is and whether it is legal, I hope I was able to give you useful information. Anything can be both used for good purposes and abused for disgraceful purposes. So use your judgment and common sense to avoid abusing the practice and falling victim to lawsuits.
Happy Web Scraping, and don't forget to maintain the best practices of the white hat data collection 🎩