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The Ethics of Data Scraping

April 11, 2016Category : Blog Data
The Ethics of Data Scraping

With the advanced data scraping technologies in place, data scraping is automated at a large scale today. Businesses are harvesting its power to drive innovation and derive better business decisions. But the bigger question remains, is data scraping an ethical concept? There are good and bad aspects to every technology. Same can be said about web scraping ethics. Let’s look at the good aspects first.

is data scraping ethical?

What is Data Scraping Good for?

Here are some of the best things about how ethically scraping data can be useful.

1. It can be used for Data Analysis and Visualisation

Data analysis is something that has relevance in every field or industry. Be it E-commerce, finance, IT or even.

Data analysis is relevant in almost every field or industry. Be it eCommerce, Finance, IT or even Healthcare, data analysis can prove vital everywhere. It can be the backbone of every business decision. Quality and quantity data is the essential fuel that drives every analysis and data visualization process. 

When it comes to data analysis, data from multiple sources is essential. This kind of data especially requires a higher level of technical skills to collect, clean up and organize. Data scrapers are an essential component of business analysis now that more companies have grown their roots into the internet.

2. Helps in Research and Development

Consumers have an endless demand for better, faster and innovative products. The development of better products has to start from research. A lot of research will go into recognizing trends, demand and problems with current products available in the market before companies can think about developing them into better ones. 

Research is an indispensable factor of product development and innovation. And this research needs huge amounts of data to be realised. Website scraping has been helping a lot in the improvement of our present-day electronic gadgets. Hence, research and development is going to be pointless without data mining.

3. Can be Employed in Market Analysis and Price Comparison

Businesses are always in need of data. Data helps in shaping a great business strategy, no matter how small your company is. Market analysis is how companies learn how to rise above the competition while providing value to the customers. Along with this, price comparison can also be carried out using data scraped from the competitor’s websites. Both of these can help businesses in improving their profits by a large margin.

Misuse of Data Scraping Technology

Like we discussed earlier, everything about technology has its dark side. Same applies to scraping the web. Web scrapping can be used for unethical or even illegal activities. This doesn’t mean data scraping itself is a wrong practice. Here are some of the possible misuses of data scraping technology.

1. Might Encourage Plagiarism

Data scrapers let you collect content in any form from all over the internet in one place. It’s not wrong to collect content, but reproducing it anywhere without the permission from its creators is absolutely wrong. Plagiarism is basically copying someone else’s copyrighted work and republishing it as your own. 

This is not only unethical but illegal as well by the digital millennium copyright act. If a person or company employs scraping solutions to collect data from various sources and publishes it as their own, this can incur a monetary loss for the affected parties. This is an unethical practise where data scraping is involved.

2. Used for Spamming

Spamming can be termed as one of the most annoying things we have ever come across on the internet. Nobody wants to receive unrelated emails or calls promoting some product or service. Many spammers use web data scraping for collecting email IDs and mobile numbers. They further use the collected contact details to send ads and promotional emails. Scraping data is the easiest way to harvest huge lists of contact details from the web, though unethical.

3. Can be used for Identity Theft

Social media profiles and data in them can be scraped using data scraping techniques. People with malicious intentions can do this for identity theft and similar illegal acts. Crawling data for emails, mobile numbers and personal info with the intention of scamming people by identity theft is a rising menace. Unfortunately, data scraping can be employed to carry out such scams.

Data Scraping Ethics

Web data scraping is a mechanism to make a computer visit a website automatically and collect some data in the process. Technically, there’s no difference between a computer visiting a website on its own and a human using a computer to visit the website. Besides, data scraping can have positive effects on all parties involved if done the right way. However, there are a few rules to follow. 

You should always read a site’s Terms of use before attempting website crawling. Some websites might not want you to crawl and extract their data and would indicate this in their robots.txt. You will have to abide by these if you want to play it cool. As long as you follow them, you are doing nothing unethical. Remember, Google is an ethical web scraping engine that every website likes to get crawled by.

Conclusion

Data scraping is a brilliant technology that has the potential to help you make the best business strategies ever tried. With great power comes great responsibility and hence it should be used for the good alone. Data scraping is ethical as long as the scraping bot respects all the rules set by the websites and the scraped data is used with good intentions. If you want to know more about the technical and legal aspects of data scraping.

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