‘Is data scraping legal?’ You have probably asked yourself this question countless times despite the immense benefits that web scraping can bring to any business. In this article, we will do a quick rundown of this topic.
Web scraping is the reason corporate giants can produce customer-responsive products, stay competitive, attract, and keep their customers satisfied.
What is web scraping?
It is an automated process of extracting data from the internet using software known as a scraper. The scraper collects data from specific websites, such as contact details, prices, customer reviews, or product details.
It parses these data, transforms it into a readable format, and stores it in the computer for further analysis.
Through web scraping, you can
- Collect prices from e-commerce websites and use them to develop a competitive pricing strategy
- Keep track of the market’s changes in tastes and preferences
- Monitor your competitors’ moves to avoid costly surprises
- Attract traffic to your site through improved keyword research and SEO monitoring
- Carry out ad verification
If you are interested in web scraping, you can read more about starting your own web scraping project for your business.
However, web scraping is not as easy as it sounds. Most website owners are keen to ban and block any IP address that shows signs of extracting data from their sites. This is because it slows down the site and results in misleading analytics.
Proxies make it possible to scrape data anonymously, without raising the web administrators’ suspicion. You can make as many web requests as you need using different IP addresses.
A proxy attached to a different geographical location will also make it possible to scrape data from geo-blocked sites.
Is Data Scraping Legal
Data scraping is legal, but it depends on two things
a) Where You Scrape the Data
You are only allowed to scrape publicly available data. This is data that does not require any log in information or passwords to access. The information you extract should be available with a simple web search.
b) What You Do with the Data Collected
Your intentions with the data collected will determine the legality of your project. If you are using the data collected to gain market insights and make better decisions, then that’s alright. But if it’s for commercial gain, then you are likely to get into legal trouble.
How to Scrape Websites Without Getting in Trouble
Here are five tips to ensure that your web scraping project goes on without a hitch.
1) Stick to the Terms of Service
Abiding by rules is the easiest way to stay out of trouble, yet most people choose to ignore them. The rules are meant to ensure that your data scraping project does not affect the functionality of the website. It will also keep you from getting blocked or banned from the site.
It is advisable to consult your lawyer on any parts of the TOS that you do not understand before agreeing to it.
2) Follow the Robots.txt File
The robots.txt file guides bots on the path to use when crawling the website and the pages that they can crawl. Following these guidelines when scraping the website will prevent you from falling into honeypot traps.
Honeypot traps are links placed on a website as a security mechanism. These links are found in the HTML code and are not visible to the human eye, but a scraper will see and click on it.
3) Scrape Slowly
Your scraper should not harm the website. It should not be the reason another business owner loses traffic to their site due to slow loading. You can avoid this by scraping slowly and refraining from making too many web requests at a go.
Add some delay time in between requests and set the scraper to an optimum speed. Aim to have your scraper emulate a regular user as much as possible.
4) Rotate the IP addresses
Rotating the IP addresses will give the impression of organic traffic and keep the website owner from being penalized by the search engine. You will also get to scrape without getting detected by the web administrator and banned from the site.
Use a proxy server with a pool of IP addresses where you can make each web request using a different IP.
5) Randomize the Scraping Pattern
A scraper will mechanically browse the website, unlike a regular visitor. This makes it easily detectable. It could result in your IP address getting blocked in the middle of your project, hindering its progress.
Adding some random actions in your scraper will make it resemble a human user. Add clicks or mouse movements.
So, is data scraping legal? It is, if you are extracting public data.
As you scrape, pay attention to the effect your scraper has on the website. Do not scrape too fast or make numerous requests at a go. It will slow down the site. Follow the guidelines provided in the robots.txt file and Terms of Service. Rotate your IP addresses and follow a human-like scraping pattern.
Stick to these guidelines, and you do not have to worry about getting banned or facing legal problems.