What is web scraping? Web scraping is the most efficient way to gather large amounts of data from websites, instead of manually entering data. Data is the most valuable asset an enterprise can have. Data can be used for almost anything, and in every department of a corporation. Web scraping can be used to increase your business’ profits, and even conduct market research. However, with large amounts of web-scraped data comes great responsibility!
Before we discuss the ethics of web scraping, we should understand if web scraping is legal, to begin with. This topic is highly debated, however, when it comes to the law, it’s legal to web scrape data as long as it’s publicly available. We also have a blog post on how your enterprise business can scrape large amounts of financial data legally.
Now that we know what constitutes legal web scraping, we can discuss the ethics of web scraping. There are many legal activities in the world that are not necessarily ethical. The key is to respect the world wide web, websites, businesses and the public data available to scrape.
In this blog post, we will discuss 3 ways your enterprise business can scrape data ethically and how ParseHub Plus can manage your web scraping; to ensure legal and ethically acquired big data.
3 Ways You Can Scrape Data Ethically
The legality of web scraping is simple, only scrape publicly available and accessible data. The ethics of web scraping can be more complicated. Since web scraping is legal and usually ethical, many enterprise corporations utilize web scraping to increase their big data resources to feed into applications.
Here are three principles you can use when web scraping publicly available data, which can improve your corporation’s data strategy:
1. Respect Websites and Servers
When it comes to ethical web scraping, context is key. Scraping huge enterprise websites and eCommerce giants such as Amazon is definitely ethical. Their servers are extensive and will not be slowed down by a simple web scraping script. Their data is publicly available as well, and thousands of companies already scrape e-commerce data daily, for price comparisons, market research and more.
You need to be careful when conducting large-scale web scraping, especially if the website is owned by a smaller business or individual. Their servers are likely to be much weaker in capabilities and can handle fewer requests than a larger business. Not only can you crash a website by scraping inefficiently or excessively, but you can also ruin its statistics and analytics. Accidentally taking down a website with a web scraping script can be compared to an illegal DoS attack (Denial of Service), although unintentionally. Therefore, we suggest working with enterprise web scraping experts, such as ParseHub Plus, which will scrape big data for you legally and ethically.
2. Have Legitimate Data Use Cases
There are cases where web-scraped data is acquired legally and ethically, from a number of sources, but the data itself is used unethically or illegally. An example of this is legally and ethically scraping large amounts of emails for lead generation, but then sending mass emails without thoughtful personalization. Although the emails were gathered legally and ethically from public sources, sending mass emails when the users are not subscribed to a mailing list is illegal. Some malicious individuals might even use the scraped user data to spread viruses or phishing emails, which is extremely illegal.
Another unethical use case is scraping large amounts of data from public sources, and selling the data to other people. Although many companies buy data for their business strategy, you should be mindful if you’re providing or selling sensitive data, such as emails, names, phone numbers and addresses. Generally, if your use case solely involves products and prices, you should be okay to disseminate the data. In the next principle, we will discuss a grey area where it may be unethical to resell data.
3. Stick to Public and Open Data
As discussed earlier, it is illegal to scrape private data. The data must be public and open to view. However, there is a grey area, and that is scraping data on websites that require a subscription or a login. The information behind a subscription model website is technically public and not sensitive data, but it’s not directly open to the public.
It’s important to respect other businesses that sell or present data as a service. For example, you may need to pay a subscription fee to view data in a particular industry, such as a list of social media influencers. If you scrape all the data, and end up selling the data, or using it for your own monetary gain, it would be an unethical practice. You technically are paying to access the data, and it’s semi-public, but the ethics are in a grey area, especially if you’re trying to profit from the data. The ethical solution is to ask the business if you can use the data for your use case or use their API which you might need to pay for. These conditions will probably be in their terms of service.
Bonus: Consult ParseHub Plus
In the end, there are many legal and ethical use cases of web scraping, such as enterprise machine learning and AI applications. Many individuals, small businesses and enterprise-level businesses trust the ParseHub, the free web scraper for data harvesting. Although the software requires no coding knowledge, it is still a self-serve application which requires you to build visual scraping projects.
There are many obstacles you may face when enterprise web scraping, and ethics is one of them. Many large businesses require big data, and they hire ParseHub Plus as a managed service. ParseHub Plus takes care of all your web scraping needs, from sourcing the data, to ongoing scrape management and even data validation. This results in highly accurate and targeted data for your business and its applications, without the headaches.
Happy Scraping! 👨💻