Web scraping is a technique used to extract data from websites and other sources. In recent years, it has become widely used, especially in the business world. On second thought, the biggest asset of any business right now is data. The data analytics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 30.41%, from USD 41.39 billion in 2022 to USD 346.33 billion in 2030.
But despite its widespread usage, there’s still a lot of confusion about its legality — after all, is web scraping legal or illegal?
Contrary to popular belief, web scraping itself is completely legal and not inherently illegal. However, this does not mean that any type of web scraping is legal; as with all human activities, it must follow certain guidelines in order to remain legal. Web scrapers must be aware of personal data protection and intellectual property regulations, as well as the terms of service of the websites they access.
Please note: While we strive to provide accurate and insightful information, we don't claim legal expertise. For nuanced legal counsel tailored to your specific project, it's always wise to consult with a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction.
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Is web scraping legal?
In a nutshell, yes. Web scraping is deemed to be a legal activity as long as it does not compromise the security of confidential information or the credibility and intellectual property of those whose data is collected. Provided that any publicly available data obtained from web scraping only serves positive purposes, it can be considered legally acceptable.
It is crucial to understand that web scraping, in essence, is merely an automated tool designed to replicate manual data extraction processes. The tool, in and of itself, does not bear legal connotations. Rather, the legal implications arise from its application and use.
Exploring Laws on Scraping Publicly Available Personal Data
Different regions have unique rules and regulations concerning web scraping, especially when it revolves around personal data. Let's delve into the specifics of these laws by region:
European Union - The GDPR
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a cornerstone regulation in the European Union that dictates the usage and protection of personal data. The GDPR defines personal data as "any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person." This broad definition suggests that even fragments of information, when pieced together, could lead to the identification of a specific human being and thus be classified as personal data.
The U.S. Privacy Act and Other Regulations
The United States doesn't operate under a single, overarching federal privacy law. Instead, it has multiple state and sector-specific laws that address various aspects of personal data, web scraping and computer fraud.
California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA): This law governs how businesses worldwide handle the personal data of California residents. It classifies personal data as details that identify, relate to, or can be reasonably associated with an individual or household. While the act includes a broad spectrum of data, it excludes publicly available information, such as government records. With the advent of the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), the CCPA's definitions and protections underwent refinements. For instance, data previously made public by an individual no longer enjoys the same protections, implying that entities can scrape personal data, but only within California.
Other U.S. Federal Laws: Besides the CCPA, there are other pivotal regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that focuses on healthcare and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA) centered on finance.
When engaging in web scraping activities, especially when aiming to collect data, it's a common misconception to think that only private personal data enjoys protection. Even when scraping public data, it's imperative to be aware of the nuances in laws across regions. Ignoring these intricacies can lead to non-compliance, potentially resulting in legal repercussions.
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How to scrape data legally
To legally scrape data, you have to do more than just follow the law. There are different kinds of agreements and policies that you should also follow when collecting information online.
Agreements can also be browsewrap and clickwrap.
Browsewrap agreements are made when you visit a site. Sometimes they appear inconspicuously at the bottom of the screen or in a drop-down menu. In these cases, they are usually not legally binding.
Clickwrap agreements require the user to check a box or click a button. Under the button or checkbox will be a written agreement to the website’s Terms and Conditions. Once you agree, the Terms and Conditions become legally binding.
Today, robots.txt is an important tool for website owners and developers, serving as a communication bridge between humans and sophisticated computer programs such as web crawlers or search engines bot. Robots.txt instructs web crawlers on how to interact with websites, allowing them to provide deep insights into the structure of content, like the hierarchy of web pages and types of file formats.
The rules in Robots.txt must be carefully followed and checked for legitimate web scraping. However, if the Terms of Service or the Robots.txt file explicitly prevent content scraping, you should get permission from the website owner before collecting data.
Data Use Agreement
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Ethics of Web Scraping
Some things can be done ethically or unethically. And web scraping is one of those things. The ethics of automatic data collection manifests itself differently depending on what stage of the scraping process you are in.
Without establishing ethical standards for web scraping, it can be difficult to distinguish between malicious web scrapers looking to plagiarize or profit and those who use data without breaking the law, innovating, and analyzing the market.
From an ethical point of view, given that web scraping already has many uses and professional suppliers in the marketplace, there is nothing wrong with using scraping for business purposes. However, there are rules to follow if you want to collect data ethically.
In fact, web scrapers provide a major solution for users who require data from websites and services that do not have an API available.
Web Scraping Best Practices
Web scraping is an incredibly useful tool for data collection and analysis, but it needs to be done responsibly. It’s important to remember that the web is a shared resource, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to use it respectfully. The following best practices will help ensure your web scraping activities are ethical and in compliance with the law.
Don’t overburden the target website
When scraping data from a website, proceeding gradually is key. Limiting the number of simultaneous requests helps to ensure that the scraping process doesn't impact the user experience of human visitors. Additionally, careful observation of delays between requests ensures that a scraped site remains open and accessible to all parties. If aggressive scraping is undertaken, it can create functionality issues that both impair the user experience and even potentially launch denial of service (DoS) attacks, crashing the website and rendering its content inaccessible to others. Taking it slow and scraping at the site’s lowest activity hours can proactively prevent such negative repercussions.
Scrape only the data you need
Scrape only the information you really need and will use in your work. It will minimize the risk of overloading the scraped site with undesirable traffic. Also, you will only get the data you use and will not store useless content in databases.
Before scraping, it's worth being polite and asking if you can collect this data.
You can identify the web scraper using the user's legitimate agent string. That way, a User-Agent informing the site owners of your activity, its purpose, and its organization will appear. This is how you show respect for the site owner.
Use specialized web scraping tools
If you're collecting many data, it can be nearly impossible to check the standards of each site individually. It pays to use a specialized tool, such as web scraping API, to avoid getting in trouble. You also can turn to our specialists, who will take care of the correct information extraction and develop a data scraper specifically for your purposes.
After reading this article, we hope you had a little insight into the legality of scraping. For example, web scraping is legal if you collect data from websites for public use or academic research.
Web scraping is illegal if you scrape sensitive information for profit, for example, by collecting personal information without permission and selling it to third parties. Passing off scraped content as your own is also unethical.
An important aspect to consider is scraping personal data. Even if the data is publicly available, scraping personal information without explicit consent or for malicious purposes can lead to legal complications and ethical dilemmas. It's crucial to approach such activities with caution and respect for individual privacy.
Web scraping has a great future as a valuable and ethical tool for gathering information and even generating new information online. By respecting other sites' terms of service, following the law, and taking an ethical approach to scraping, you won't have any problems with site owners.