Web scraping

Is Web Scraping Legal? If Yes, What Tools Should You Use, if No, what next?

 

The most important boundaries in web scraping are personal data and intellectual property. However, other factors including the website’s terms of service play a critical role in web scraping. You need to read on in this document to learn more about the legality of web scraping. This article will deal with some important areas that bring confusion and provide useful tips that would assist keep your scrapers ethical and compliant.

As such, scraping contact details is a faster way of getting lead generation data for your sales and marketing teams. Harvesting contact details helps you maintain and populate an up-to-date database of leads, contacts, and prospective customers. Rather than visiting web pages manually and copy-pasting numbers and names, you can just extract the data and sort it rapidly in spreadsheets or even feed it into your existing workflow directly.

Common misconceptions

We need to clear up some fallacies before we start. We have heard that web scrapers operate within a grey area of the law. Again, we have heard that web scraping is illegal but no one has managed to enforce the illegality. Others say “web scraping is hacking” or “web scrapers steal our data”. We hear this from friends, clients, interviewees, and companies. This is false.

Myth 1: Web scraping is illegal

It’s about what you scrape and how you do it. It’s the same as taking pictures using your phone. It is legal most times but taking pictures of confidential documents or army barracks may land you into trouble. This is the same as web scraping. No rule or law bans web scraping, but this does not mean you can just scrape everything.   

Myth 2: Web scrapers operate in a grey area of law

This is false. Legitimate web scraping companies are like any other regular business. Accordingly, these companies follow similar rules and regulations that everyone follows in doing their respective businesses. Further, web scraping has not been heavily regulated but that does not mean anything illicit.

Myth 3: Web scraping is hacking

The term hacking can be interpreted in several ways but mostly, it describes access to a computer system using non-standard procedures, by exploiting the system. Additionally, web scrapers access websites the same way a legitimate human user would do. Web scrapers do not exploit the available vulnerabilities but access data that is publicly available.

Myth 4: Web scrapers are stealing data

Not at all. Web scrapers collect data from the publicly available internet. But can you steal public data? Try to imagine seeing a nice shirt displayed in a store, then you decide to pull out your phone so that you can take note of its price and the brand. In such a case, would you say you have stolen that information? The answer is No. It’s true certain information is protected through government regulations but we shall cover that later on. Apart from such government regulations, there are no worries when gathering facts like locations and prices.

Think twice before scraping personal data

In the past, few people worried about their data. No specific regulations had been enacted and everybody’s names, shopping preferences, birthdays, etc. could be used for free. However, it is no longer the case in California, the European Union (EU), and other jurisdictions. It is necessary to learn about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and local regulations in your jurisdiction.

Regulations around the world are different and there is a need to think carefully about whose data you want to scrape and where it comes from. In certain jurisdictions, it is completely fine but in others, you need to avoid personal data. Below is a comparison of GDPR and CCPA if you wish to learn more.

How to know whether to GDPR, CCPA or some other regulations are applicable? The following details are simplified but if you are from the EU, do business within the EU, or the people whose information you want are in the EU, the regulation you should apply is GDPR. Ideally, this is a far-reaching regulation. Besides, CCPA applies to California businesses and residents only. It’s used mostly for comparison and has gained prominence for being the United States pioneering legislation.  You must always check and familiarize yourself with your country’s privacy legislation.  

How to scrape personal data ethically

Before starting with legal analysis, you have to use empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of the person whose data you are scraping, would you be happy about it? Is it for the greater good? Ethical scraping considers what is legal and what’s right. For instance, Apify has a beautiful use case with Thorn where we can find lost children after scraping personal data. It’s something we are proud of and firmly believe it has passed the legitimate interest test as well as vital interest and public interest GDPR tests.

After ascertaining that you do not hurt anyone through your scraping, analyze those regulations applicable to you. For example, if your company is in the EU, GDPR would apply even when you intend to scrape personal data for people outside the EU. As a business operating within the EU, do your research. You may need to move forward owing to legitimate interests but in most cases, you might have to pass such personal data scraping projects to your competitors and non-EU partners. Alternatively, if you are not an EU company, do not do business within the EU, and do not target those in the EU, you’re good to go. Further, ensure to familiarize with local regulations such as the CCPA.

Finally, program your scrapers such that you can collect just a little personal data possibly and keep it temporarily. Establishing people’s database and their information particularly for lead generation remains a difficult case especially in those jurisdictions that are protected. However, scraping people from the Google Maps reviews to identify fake reviews and discarding personal data can pass the interest test for legitimacy quite easily.

What is that one tool that you can recommend scraping data for lead generation?
I will leave this to you to decide.
But, you can check this out to see if it suits your needs. It has worked for me previously, I believe it will for you too.

Conclusion

So, is web scraping legal or not? This remains a complex problem. We strongly believe its legal and hope this short but simplified legal analysis has managed to convince you. The future of web scraping is secure and we predict a slow and steady paradigm shift as people accept scraping as one of the most ethical and useful tools of gathering and creating new information on the internet. 

Web scraping is simply an automation of work by humans. It makes the process of automation faster and even more reliable. More importantly, it allows people to shift their focus to important matters. For instance, Apify plays a critical role in rescuing trafficked children, helping find lost dogs, and to restore forests through web scraping. Therefore, it cannot be all bad, can it?