Web Scraping 101: 10 Myths That Everyone Should Know

6 min read

“Is web scraping legal?” “Are web scraping and web crawling the same things?” You may have such questions when you hear about web scraping. Many people might have myths about its definition, legal considerations, technologies, use cases, etc. In this article, we’ll explore 10 myths of web scraping and discuss the answers together.

1. Is web scraping illegal?

Is web scraping legal?” must be one of the most common questions that people ask. Many people have false impressions about the legality of web scraping because some people don’t respect intellectual property rights and use web scrapers in an improper way like stealing private content. The first myth we want to explode is web scraping isn’t illegal itself, yet problems arise when people disregard websites’ terms of service (ToS) and scrape data without site owners’ permission.

According to a report, 2% of online revenue can be lost due to the misuse of content through web scraping. Even though there are no clear laws and terms to address and stipulate how to apply web scraping on websites, many legal regulations have encompassed it. For example:

2. Is web scraping and web crawling the same thing?

Web scraping and web crawling differ in their goals, which is the most significant difference. While web crawling scans and indexes the whole website with its internal likes without a specific goal, web scraping involves specific data extraction on a targeted webpage. As a result, web crawling is widely used in search engines. Web scraping is used to extract particular data fields like sales leads, real estate listings, product prices, reviews, etc.

3. Can you scrape any website?

On a technical level, you can scrape almost any website. But on a legal or ethical level, you can not do so all the time. It is essential to note the general rules before conducting web scraping, including:

  • Private data that requires a username and passcodes cannot be scrapped.
  • Compliance with the ToS (Terms of Service) which explicitly prohibits the action of web scraping.
  • Don’t copy data that is copyrighted.

One person can be prosecuted under several laws. For example, one scraped some confidential information and sold it to a third party disregarding the desist letter sent by the site owner. This person can be prosecuted under the law of Trespass to Chattel, Violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and Misappropriation.

It is often the case that people ask for scraping things like email addresses, posts on social media, LinkedIn job postings, etc. As mentioned in this part, you can scrape social channels like Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc., but you need to figure out what can be scraped on these websites. Most websites are friendly to scraping services that follow the provisions of the robots.text file.

4. Do you need to know Python when scraping

This is another common myth that also scares people away from web scraping. You have no need to know about Python or write any codes to build scrapers. Free Web scraping tools are useful for non-tech professionals like marketers, statisticians, financial consultants, bitcoin investors, researchers, journalists, etc., to collect data without coding.

Taking Octoparse as an example, it provides preset scraping templates that cover a variety of mainstream platforms like Amazon, eBay, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Maps, etc. When you scrape data with these templates, all you have to do is enter the keywords/URLs at the parameter without any complex task configuration. Compared with writing a scraper with Python which is more time-consuming, a web scraping template is more time-saving, convenient, and effortless to capture the data you need, especially when you have zero experience in coding.

5. You can use scraped data for anything

Generally, it is perfectly legal if you scraper data from websites for public consumption and uses it for non-profitable purposes, like marker research and academic research. Scraping confidential information, by contrast, might cause a series of legal considerations, especially using it for profit. For example, pulling private contact information without permission, and selling it to a 3rd party for profit is illegal. In addition, repackaging scraped content as your own without citing the source might cause ethical issues. You need to follow the idea that no spamming, plagiarism, or fraudulent use of data is prohibited according to the law.

6. A web scraper is versatile

Maybe you’ve experienced that your scraper failed to read particular websites for the second time, even though you’ve successfully gained data from them before. Don’t get frustrated when you come across such situations. There are many reasons behind this phenomenon. For example, it may be because the websites have changed their layouts or structures once in a while, your IP may be triggered by identifying as a suspicious bot, or different Geo-locations or machine access. In these cases, it is normal for a web scraper to fail to parse the website before we set the adjustment.

To avoid being blocked, read this article: How to Scrape Websites Without Being Blocked in 5 Mins?

7. You can scrape data at a fast speed

You may have seen scraper ads saying how speedy their crawlers are. According to them, they can collect data in seconds. But what they don’t tell is that a scalable data request at a fast speed will overload a web server, which might lead to a server crash. In this case, the person is responsible for the damage under the law of “trespass to chattels” law (Dryer and Stockton 2013). As a result, you, the user of the crawler, might be the lawbreaker who will be prosecuted if damages are caused.

If you are not sure whether the website is available for web scraping and how to avoid causing a server crash while extracting data, please ask the web scraping service providers. Octoparse is a responsible web scraping service provider that places clients’ needs and satisfaction in the first place. The goal of Octoparse is to help clients get their problems solved and be successful.

8. API and web scraping are the same

API is like a channel to send your data request to a web server and get detailed data. After sending requests, API will return the data in JSON format over the HTTP protocol. Many platforms now provide their users with official APIs, like Amazon API, eBay API, and Twitter API. However, it doesn’t mean you can get any data you want with APIs.

By contrast, web scraping can be more customized with the help of web scraping tools. Web scraping allows you to interact with the websites and visualize the process of selecting data fields and creating workflows so that you can get almost every wanted data field. Octoparse has made more effort in building preset web scraping templates. Templates are even more convenient for non-tech professionals to extract data by filling out the parameters with keywords/URLs.

9. The scraped data only works after being cleaned and analyzed

Many data integration platforms can help visualize and analyze data for particular business research. In comparison, it looks like data scraping doesn’t have a direct impact on business decision-making. Web scraping indeed extracts raw data of the webpage that needs to be processed to gain insights like sentiment analysis. However, some raw data can be valuable in the hands of gold miners.

With Octoparse’s Google Search web scraping template, you can search for an organic search result and extract informatics, including the titles and the meta descriptions about your competitors to determine your SEO strategies. For retail industries, web scraping can be used to monitor product pricing and distribution. For example, Amazon online shop owners can crawl products under the “Electronic” catalog on Flipkart and Walmart to assess the performance of electronic items on other platforms.

10. Web scraping can only be used in business

Web scraping is widely used in various fields besides lead generation, price monitoring, price tracking, and market analysis for businesses. Students can also leverage a Google Scholar web scraping template to conduct paper research. Realtors are able to conduct housing research and predict the housing market. You will be able to find YouTube influencers or Twitter evangelists to promote your brand or your own news aggregation that covers the only topics you want by scraping news media and RSS feeds.

A Video Explains Web Scraping Myths

Now, you may have a general idea about web scraping and its myths after reading the above content. Here is a video to help you understand the web scraping concept better, and you can also read the frequently asked questions of web scraping to learn more or download the web scraping infographic to have a general idea.

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