Web scraping is hardly new. Many businesses and individuals use web scraping to collect and aggregate information. But, as API technology improves, businesses can now collect and parse raw data that wasn’t previously available in a structured form. As a result, businesses have become more innovative with how they use web scraping. Now, especially in the entrepreneurial space, businesses are turning to web scraping to create their own services.
Despite its benefits, however, web scraping is often criticized. People often ask “is web scraping legal?” Some consider web scraping similar to data theft. Sure, web scraping has the potential for abuse. You can’t, however, call the process illegal just because it can be misused.
Of course, this is a discussion. It is not legal advice. If you have any concerns, you should consult a lawyer in your specific jurisdiction.
So, let’s take a look at the legal status of web scraping in today’s digital world.
When is web scraping illegal?
Essentially, web scraping is just an automated way of doing things that would require lots of time and extra effort to do manually. That’s not to say, however, that there shouldn’t be limits regarding what we can and can’t scrape. That said if you use it ethically, web scraping is the ideal strategy for collecting data that is “public” and accessible.
For instance, product listings and other similar categories on Amazon are public information. Everyone that has access to the internet can go to Amazon’s website and find that information. This begs the question, “If people can manually access the information, why can’t an automated tool do the same?” At the end of the day, if the data is public, does it matter how it is accessed?
On the other hand, data is not public, or has limited access, using web scraping gives rise to legal concerns. To continue with the Amazon example, your Personal Identifiable Information (PII), your cart status, your order list, and similar information are protected. In this case, web scraping to access that data for personal or commercial purposes may well be illegal (certainly unethical). Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Breaching private information is an individual, illegal act. Can we blame web scraping as a process when the fault lies with the person using the tool?
How can I use web scraping for public benefit?
Where data is publicly available, the “is web scraping legal” question is moot. On the contrary, public information is the ideal place to use web scraping techniques to research and build useful digital solutions.
Going back to our example of the Amazon product listings, with web scraping you can collect and analyze data to develop market insights. Insights that can actually benefit consumers. For example, the highest-rated or the cheapest product in a category. In addition, you can fetch and combine product listings from another, similar website. With that information, you could develop a service that compares prices or quality at different online stores.
There are many use cases where you could create a commercially viable product by scraping the publicly accessible data.
Web scraping is a powerful technique for accessing updating information from secondary resources. That’s all. As a technology web scraping just makes things easier. Rather than asking “is web scraping legal” policymakers should instead focus on securing their (and our) data on the web.
It is an important discussion. apilayer is an initiative that truly understands and believes in regulation and data compliance. apilayer provides APIs that make the developer’s effort easier and more seamless. As a result, it contributes to a more productive development experience. Our API scrapestack outclasses the conventional scraping efforts for legal applications. Built using robust, modern technology the scrapestack API is a real-time and scalable web scraping REST API. It smooths the scraping process with a single API call. All you need to do is post-process your scraped data.