Web scraping has been an important aspect of the internet since its inception. Businesses use it to establish databases, formulate marketing plans, generate leads, and so on, in order to display hundreds of thousands of results instantly. There are also various methods for scraping data from websites, but when working on potentially larger projects, we may be unsure whether there are any legal or ethical issues related to writing a piece of computer code that scrapes a significant amount of information from the Internet.While web scraping has enormous potential, there are some questions about its legal and ethical implications.In this blog, we will explore some of the issues to be careful of when scraping websites.
Legal and Ethical Considerations of Web ScrapingThe following are legal and ethical issues to keep in mind when scraping the web:
Legal ConsiderationsSince the rapid acceptance of web scraping for empowering data services and apps, there have been no universally applicable legal terms governing its use.However, since then, a minimal set of generally applicable norms has formed. When scraping data from third parties, three main legal considerations should be kept in mind:
- Service terms
- Trespass to chattels
CopyrightCopyright entails respecting the intellectual property of others. It is critical to understand that web scraping might be prohibited in certain conditions, which vary by country.If the terms and conditions of the website we are scraping expressly prohibit downloading and duplicating its content, we may face legal consequences for scraping it. In reality, however, web scraping is acceptable as long as reasonable care is taken not to disturb “normal” website use. However, you should be aware that if you do not obtain permission from the copyright owner, you may be in violation of copyright law.
Service terms or Terms of Service (TOS)In a nutshell, the “terms of service” (ToS) reflect a legal agreement between the service provider (i.e., the website) and the consumer (i.e., the user or scraper) for the use of the given services. First and foremost, this legal requirement is unique to each service. Websites, for example, do not have general Terms of Service. Furthermore, many terms of service fall into a legal grey area due to their unpredictability or lack of clear user permission (i.e., the stipulation that the continued use of the service automatically implies consent to the ToS). This is why data extraction agents should approach each source individually based on its Terms of Service.
Trespass to ChattelsWhile the terms “copyright” and “terms of service” are generally used and well-known in the world of (software) engineering, “trespass to chattels” is a less commonly used term that was drawn from the seven sorts of international torts of common law. It is the purposeful interception of another person’s possession or property. When it comes to web scraping, two examples of “trespass to chattels” are a DoS (denial of service) produced by a crawler or scraper causing a significant strain on the website and unauthorized access to sensitive information.
Ethical ConsiderationsAside from the legal difficulties discussed above, one must also consider the general ethical issues that may arise from crawling and/or scraping external websites. The following are some of the potentially detrimental ethical implications of web scraping:
- Personal privacy
- Organizational privacy and trade secrets
- Diminishing value for the Organization
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