The amount of data created daily in the digital age is staggering (around 2.5 trillion gigabytes). Web scraping services are the key to utilizing this information and employing it for the benefit of your business or personal endeavours.
The use of web crawlers, scrapers and others automated tools for gathering online content has long been a feature of Internet. When utilized correctly, a web scraper is legal and can be incredibly effective for both the original creator of the content and the user of the relevant data. However, there are a few ethical rules to follow when utilising a web scraping service.
1. Avoid duplication
Scraping data from websites is usually bypassing the content author’s intended use of the information. However, the ethical purpose of web scraping is to create new value from the data, not to duplicate it.
Whilst collecting content is often necessary, reproducing it without the permission of the owner is wrong and can lead to significant financial losses to the affected person. Some legitimate and ethical purposes for using web scraping include compiling information for marketing decisions, search engine optimization, market research, lead generation and competitor analysis.
Some websites might not want you to crawl and extract their data and would, therefore, indicate this clearly. This is the very important limit between web scraping and ‘hacking’: respect for the law and the content. If the content being scraped is copyright protected, scraping the data can also be a breach of the copyright and can leave you vulnerable to costly legal action.
3. Do not use web scraping to gather sensitive user information
The legal landscape relating to web crawling and scraping is still taking shape- most cases involving the use of web crawling and scraping tools have been highly fact specific. However, best practice dictates that ethical web scrapers should refrain from seeking to cumulate sensitive user information from the internet without prior consent. Sensitive user information can include any personally identifiable data, financial and payment information, contact data and authentication information.
4. Consider a ‘user agent string’
One ethical option when using web scraping services is to identify your web scraper or crawler with a legitimate user agent string. This is simply a page or software that displays information about the browser and operations system. Using this method you can explain to the content owner what you seek to do with the scraped information and why you would like to utilize it.
5. Use a reasonable crawl rate
Using a reasonable crawl rate means not bombarding any site with requests for data. Web scrapers can send many more requests per second than what a human can do. This can cause an unexpected load on websites and damage to the server.
Most websites expect users to view their information at a reasonable pace. Using a download delay setting in web scraping services is the ethical solution to avoiding damage due to excessive requests.
The Internet is a smorgasbord of relevant and useful information. It is therefore not surprising that web scraping services have become a popular tool for web users to utilize the valuable data that is available on the web. Following these simple guidelines is the best way of ensuring that you use web scraping ethically, and can enjoy the benefits without legal ramifications.