Virginia Web Scraping

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Friday, 29 April 2016

Web Scraping – Ethical Data Collection Activity or an Illegal Practice?

Abiding by the definition, web scrapping is a method to extract data from website. There can be different reasons to perform this task, such as for reporting, market research, to determine share indexes, know website updates, product rate updates, to monitor data, and so on. Besides these, data theft is another of the prominent motives behind web data extraction, which ultimately holds the use of a web scraper as unethical and at times, illegal.

Technical definition

In technical terms, data scraping is a method of collecting data from a website through specific software. These software programs or web scrapers give the website owners the impression of human web surfing and extract a big volume of data, which is usually difficult for any user visitor to access manually. The apps simulate human exploration of online data by embedding web browsers, or implementing HTTP to fulfill the cause of data extractors.

Relation with data mining

Usually, data mining refers to analyzing data from varied perspectives and transforming it to meaningful information that could help in boosting sales or mitigating financial risks in a business. As for web scraping, it involves extraction of analytical data from the web. At present, web scrapping comprises major source of data extraction carried out by data miners. This is because almost everything is now available online and for any data miner, this resource is no less than a gold mine.

The web scraping process

In this data scraping method, the experts look out for tricks to format the URLs into pages that include the usable information. The web scrapers then parse the DOM tree to extract data from the website. In simple language, the web scrapers process the semi-structured or unstructured data pages of the desired website and then convert the resulting data into a well structured form. The users can harvest or modify the structured data in a better manner.

Web scraping – legal or unethical?

It solely relies on your intentions, whether you are doing this activity in the interest of the masses or just wish to satisfy your personal interests. If it is for a goodwill, such as to research on share index to predict the market situation in the coming days, it is fine. Another positive example could be to identify the trend of market and suggest a client on viable business boosting methods accordingly.

However, if you are doing web scraping for personal gratification then it may well be termed as intrusion into one’s personal data. For example, if you are hacking into the database of a university to steal the academic articles and using them in your own project. Any such instance is definitely an act of stealth and may accompany relevant punishment. Concisely, to get hold of someone’s creative work for individual gains is unethical. Such people also deploy several bots to for data scraping or spinning, which in turn choke the search engine results and hardly useful to the internet.

Considerations that deem web scraping illegal

Generally, web scraping is illegal in two instances:

1. When you violate the terms and conditions of the service of the concerned website:

Most of the data-oriented websites disallow data scraping. Hence, if you are trying to extract data from that website, the owner has all the rights to sue you on the offense of breach of contract.

2. When you publish scraped content:

This is yet another condition that may delve you into violating the right of the copyright holders. If you are only scraping the content for fair use, it may be permissible. However, companies often hold all the publishing rights and may file suit against you if you publish their data without their permission.

Remedy to illegal web scraping

Despite running the apprehensions of getting identified, unethical web scrapers deter to steal data from websites. Hence, the web owners themselves need to be alert enough not to fall prey to such fraudulent activities. Indeed, it is your data and you won’t like it to get compromised at any cost. Just like there are many web scraping tools available online, you can also opt for applications that offer protection against web data extraction as a fruitful remedy. These software safeguard your website content from hacking attacks such as bots, denial of service, brute force, session opening and transaction anomalies, and more.

Summary: Technology has two facets – good and bad. It depends on us which one to adopt; the same holds in the case of web scraping as well. We should make sure to use this innovation for the benefit of society and not to steal away some one’s creativity, which is indeed unethical and at times, illegal

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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Taking a cue from the Ryanair screen scraping judgment

Screen scraping is the best way to aggregate web data much faster than a human possibly can. However, is there any such thing known as ethical web scraping?

Well it’s not scraping in itself that is good or bad. What matters is how you use the scraped data. It would be extremely unethical to steal data, republish it or use it to cause harm to a business. This was clearly established when the EU passed a judgment in favour of Ryanair.

The EU’s highest court passed a judgment in favour of Ryan air, and this will positively prevent people from scraping and using others data in an unethical manner. Ryanair had claimed that PR Aviation scraped its data regarding the flight scheduled and then used it to allow people book Ryanair flights via the PR Aviation website and this is clearly an infringement of database rights.