Web Scraping 101: 10 Myths that Everyone Should Know

5 min read

Is web crawling legal? Are web scraping and web crawling the same things?

Read the 10 myths of web scraping to understand its legality, the use cases, and web scraping challenges versus corresponding solutions. If you are confused about what web scraping is, here is where you can get started.

Many people have false impressions about web scraping. It is because there are scrapers who don’t respect intellectual property rights and use web scraping to steal content. Web scraping isn’t illegal by itself, yet problems arise when people disregard websites’ terms of service (ToS) and scrape without the site owner’s permission. According to a report, 2% of online revenues can be lost due to the misuse of content through web scraping. Even though web scraping doesn’t have a clear law and terms to address its application, it’s encompassed by many legal regulations. For example:

2. Web scraping and web crawling are the same things

Web scraping involves specific data extraction on a targeted webpage, for instance, extracting data about sales leads, real estate listing, and product pricing.

In contrast, web crawling is what search engines do. It scans and indexes the whole website along with its internal links. “Crawler” navigates through the web pages without a specific goal.

3. You can scrape any website

It is often the case that people ask for scraping things like email addresses, Facebook posts, or LinkedIn information. According to an article titled “Is web crawling legal?” it is important to note the rules before conducting web scraping:

  • 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 doesn’t mean that you can’t scrape social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. They are friendly to scraping services that follow the provisions of the robots.txt file. For Facebook, you need to get its written permission before conducting the behavior of automated data collection.

4. You need to know how to code

You have no need to know code, a web scraping tool is very useful for non-tech professionals like marketers, statisticians, financial consultants, bitcoin investors, researchers, journalists, etc.

Octoparse launched a one-of-a-kind feature – web scraping templates that are preformatted scrapers that cover over 14 categories on over 30 websites including Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Instagram, and more. All you have to do is to enter the keywords/URLs at the parameter without any complex task configuration. Web scraping with Python is time-consuming. On the other side, a web scraping template is efficient and convenient to capture the data you need.

5. You can use scraped data for anything

It is perfectly legal if you scrape data from websites for public consumption and use it for analysis. However, it is not legal if you scrape confidential information for profit. For example, scraping private contact information without permission, and selling them to a 3rd party for profit is illegal. Besides, repackaging scraped content as your own without citing the source is not ethical as well. You should follow the idea of no spamming, no plagiarism, or any fraudulent use of data is prohibited according to the law.

6. A web scraper is versatile

Maybe you’ve experienced particular websites that change their layouts or structure once in a while. Don’t get frustrated when you come across such websites that your scraper fails to read for the second time. There are many reasons. It isn’t necessarily triggered by identifying you as a suspicious bot. It also may be caused by 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.

Read this article: How to Scrape Websites Without Being Blocked in 5 Mins?

7. You can scrape at a fast speed

You may have seen scraper ads saying how speedy their crawlers are. It does sound good as they tell you they can collect data in seconds. However, you are the lawbreaker who will be prosecuted if damages are caused. It is because 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). If you are not sure whether the website is scrapable or not, please ask the web scraping service provider. Octoparse is a responsible web scraping service provider that places clients’ satisfaction in the first place. It is crucial for Octoparse to help our clients get their problem 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 desired data. API will return the data in JSON format over the HTTP protocol. For example, Facebook API, Twitter API, and Instagram API. However, it doesn’t mean you can get any data you ask for. Web scraping can visualize the process as it allows you to interact with the websites. Octoparse has web scraping templates. It is even more convenient for non-tech professionals to extract data by filling out the parameters with keywords/URLs.

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

Many data integration platforms can help visualize and analyze the data. 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 extremely valuable in the hands of gold miners.

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

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.

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