Is Web Data Scraping Legal?

The technological boom and internet penetration that began in the mid-1900s aided in the expansion of web data and its use cases. Web data is becoming one of the most useful resources, playing an important role in our decision-making process. To meet the growing need for web data, several data scraping techniques and technologies have emerged. Legal problems arose in tandem with the development of these tools.

If you want to reap the benefits of web data, you must also be aware of some features of scraping. The legality and ethics of data collection should be the primary focus points while obtaining data. Failure to consider these elements may result in severe ethical issues and litigation.

Legal landscape of data scraping

Ever since the advent of web scraping, its legality is a debatable topic. Currently, there are no regulations or laws that discuss the legality of web scraping. So, to understand the real legal landscape, we need to dive deep into it.

Web scraping is not banned by any law or rule. But, that doesn’t imply that you can scrape everything and anything. It is unlawful to scrape data if done maliciously. However, it is legal if done wisely. Thus, legality primarily depends on one’s conscience, which is easier said than done. Here’s a simple approach to analyzing the admissibility of your data scraping activity. Answer the following three questions:

  1. What kind of data are you scraping? 
  2. For what purpose are you scraping? 
  3. How do you collect that data?

If these three questions possess an ethical explanation, you are doing ethical data scraping.

Illegal data scraping

Web data extraction is not confined to public data; sometimes it collects private and confidential information as well. Therefore, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the legality of data extraction. 

  • Public vs. Private Data

Public data is a set of information published by its owners that anyone can access. It is lawful to scrape data from public websites. Any personal, individually identifiable, financial, sensitive, or regulated information is considered as private data. For example, contact information, bank account details, passwords, etc. Scraping any personal information without the person’s agreement or a legal reason is illegal. The fact that publicly available information is legal to scrape creates a lot of misunderstandings regarding the legality of scraping publicly available personal information. 

The well-known case of hiQ Vs. LinkedIn in 2019 discussed the legitimacy of scraping publicly available personal information. The lawsuit raises the question of whether social media or content platforms should be allowed to prevent other companies from scraping and exploiting their publicly available user data. In this case, the court ruled out the claim made by LinkedIn that scraping personal data from public platforms is a breach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

However, in 2021, in light of another recent Supreme Court ruling interpreting the statute’s reach, the United States Supreme Court decided to hear LinkedIn’s case for reconsideration.

In 2020, French Privacy Regular CNIL introduced guidelines for scraping publicly available personal data, as many of the cases showed a violation of data privacy. According to CNIL, companies that scrape personal data must get the voluntary, explicit, and informed consent of data subjects before utilizing it for marketing purposes. The CNIL underlines that when individuals share personal data with one data controller, they do not anticipate it to be used for commercial purposes, and as a result, their agreement is required (CNIL, 2020).

  • Infringement of Copyright

Data is one of the most powerful weapons, thus data needs to be protected from malicious activities. This can be achieved by using a tool called copyrights. Scraping any freely accessible material that is copyrighted by any firm or individual, is unlawful. The website holder has the right to protect their content on the web and this right is legally binding in nature. However, if you are scraping copyrighted data, but not reusing it for your personal gain, then your activity is completely legitimate. Because certain websites’ data may be protected by copyright, it’s a good idea to look for a proprietary warrant before you start scraping. 

Ideas and facts are not protected by copyright. It simply safeguards the manner in which ideas or facts are expressed.

  • Terms and Conditions

The Terms of Service are the rules or regulations that the owner of a website applies to the data provided on their website. Website holders use Terms of Service to express their disagreement with scraping information from their site. One cannot go against the terms of service as these are legally enforceable. Before scraping any website, it’s necessary to read the terms of service to avoid legal trouble. 

Jurisdiction for illegal web scraping

Currently, no legislation specifically targets web scraping. Legal enforcement of unlawful data extraction is mainly done using a set of related fundamental regulations. Rather than prohibiting any action, these laws aim to guarantee that it is carried out ethically and responsibly.

  • Copyright Law

Copyright is a type of intellectual property protection provided by law to authors who create original works of art. According to Section 17 of copyright law, the producer of the work is the initial proprietor of the copyright. Section 51 of the Copyright Act further assures that a copyright infringement in the course of business without the authorization of the copyright holder is illegal. Copyright laws do not prohibit the collection of data, but they do prohibit the harmful use of such data.

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

According to GDPR, privacy for personal data is considered a basic right. It defines personal data as any personally identifiable information that discloses the personal identity of an individual. GDPR guarantees that it is illegal to handle personal data unless one of six legal bases is met: permission, contact, public duty, vital interest, legitimate interest, or legal obligation. Only personal data is covered under the GDPR.

  • The Information Technology Act (2002)

This act was introduced to reduce cyber crimes and to facilitate trustworthy digital and online transactions. The IT Act safeguards the confidentiality and privacy of individuals and prevents hacking for malicious purposes. Using this Act, a violation of privacy and data through an electronic medium can be penalized. 

  • The US Privacy Act

The objective of the Privacy Act is to safeguard the personal information and rights of individuals from unfair privacy intrusions. This act put forward the idea of “fair information practices” that compels federal agencies to comply with legislative requirements for data gathering, management, and distribution. 

Conclusion

Overall, online scraping legislation is continuously growing, and more tailored rules are needed to adequately define the legality of data scraping. As existing data scraping regulation becomes more stringent, it is more important than ever for organizations to adhere to ethical data scraping procedures. As a result, in addition to locating the appropriate data, you should also evaluate the practice’s ethics. 

At Scrapeworks, we efficiently take care of your web data needs through ethical data scraping services. We make sure all our web scraping activities are carried out within a legal framework, giving you a safe space to make effective use of web data. Never let the legality behind data scraping scare you. Connect with us and have a safe data scraping experience.

 

  Gopika B Anil

  Content Marketer

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