man thinking about legal implications of web scraping
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The process of extracting data from websites can be described as web scraping. Often, because of its format, online data is simple to capture and use, such as comma-separated values (CSV) datasets that can be imported into a spreadsheet or loaded into a script for data analysis. Nevertheless, while the information is readily accessible, it is not conveniently available for re-use.

There are several ways in which we can scrape a website and collect data for further use. Copying and pasting snippets of data available online is the easiest method of scraping. Businesses cannot technically use even large sets of data distributed through several web pages.

Web data scraping glyph icon.

To simplify the process, we will need software and professional assistance to extract the necessary data and automate web scraping/data scraping by specifying the type of data and the time to collect it. The collected information is then exported to a more convenient format for the end-user, such as HTML, CSV, Excel, or JSON.

Since you have been interested in web scraping and data extraction from different websites and e-commerce businesses, you’ve probably asked yourself is it legal to scrape data from websites? To be honest, there is not a simple answer if data and web scraping is legal.

In the blog post below, we will try to give you an idea of web scraping’s legal background.

Please consider this article for educational and informational purposes only. This article aims to provide you with some guidelines but not any legal representation and services. 

Please take this as educational and informational purposes only. We can only provide some guidelines but not legal representation and services. 

Why Do People Think Web Scraping Is Illegal and Unethical?

In today’s world, information is money, and many companies have a competitive advantage since they handle or own large amounts of data. Some companies use web scraping to get the data they need for their business and financial growth, market cap,… it is all about the business. This gives a perception that web scraping’s sole purpose is making money. People don’t like online tools made for financial rewards, so they consider them unethical, offensive, and even illegal.

When web-scraping is in process, data scrapers will send a lot of different requests to the websites to get the required information. Since this is automatic, the programs and codes will notice a larger amount of activity as compared to a human user of the website. The usual rate is 1 request per 10-15 seconds. A digital data scraper sends more data requests than a regular user, which causes a heavy load on the website. This is one of the main reasons why websites have specific anti-data-scraping security measurements.

This still doesn’t give us the answer if data scraping is legal.

Pay Attention to Terms of Service

When data scraping, businesses, and entrepreneurs sometimes cross the legal line because they violate Terms of Services and copyright norms. One should not do web scraping on websites where you need to log-in and have a personal/business profile and then download data. By logging in, users agree to Terms of Service, which usually don’t allow data collection. In this situation, web scraping is seen as an aggressive violation of respect and ethical norms and illegal.

Mouse Cursor Clicking Accept for Terms and Conditions Agreement.
Terms of Service

You have to be careful. Every website has its own security measures and Terms of Service to protect the data. With web scraping, you may cross the line by carrying out your data collection without any care for privacy and security.

If you follow and respect the Terms of Service, you are safe, meaning website scraping is legal. If the Terms clearly mention you are not allowed to scrape the data, you have to ask for permission in writing.

Public Vs. Private Data

If you think you can do whatever you want with the publicly available data, you are wrong.

You still have to be sure that you are not violating any laws that may apply to such data (copyrighted data, for example). This may include designs, templates, blogs, articles, songs, gifs, videos, other creative work, and anything that has already been done by somebody else.

Private Vs Public Secret Confidential Information Data Puzzle Words 3d Illustration
Public Vs. Private Data

Data scraping is legal, just don’t re-use the copyrighted data for business purposes.

Governments and organizations have been preparing laws and legislations that protect the privacy of individuals, especially online. The most known are the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA. These laws protect individuals, not business information. If you are scraping websites with business information like business name, contact information, their links to social media,…in this case web scraping is still legal.

Business or Private Use of Data

Even if you are using the data for your personal use or for fun, you always have to pay attention to the Terms of Service and how you can use the data. In some cases, the usage of the data is allowed, but web scraping activity is not. In this case, web scraping is not legal.

If you scrape other data and it’s publicly available, you are still on the legal side of data scraping. Just make sure you don’t re-use the data or re-publish it for financial gain. When you go beyond it, it is considered illegal.

Robots.txt

The definition says: “Robots.txt is a text file with instructions for web robots on how to crawl search engines and websites.” As long as you follow and respect the robots.txt, web scraping is legal. If the Robot doesn’t allow scraping, you need to ask the owner for permission or don’t scrape the website.

Robot txt flat icon.
Robots.txt

How to Avoid Issues When Data Scraping?

Here are some simple, practical tips on how to avoid legal issues when data scraping:

Two fingers are decorated as two person. They are discussing about ways to avoid data scraping issues.
Avoid Data Scraping Issues
  1. Use the website’s API for data collection if possible. If you don’t use the given API and you harm the website, data scraping becomes illegal. 
  2. Respect Terms of Service. If you really need a great amount of data from a specific website, you may also ask for the website’s owner’s permission. 
  3. Pay attention to copyrighted data and work. If you have to re-use or re-publish the data, ask for the permission of the author. 
  4. Contact Loginworks, and we’ll do the job for you. 

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