What is Web Scraping and Is It Legal?

  • By Greg Brown
  • Jul 17, 2023

What is Web Scraping

In today’s competitive world, everybody is looking for ways to innovate and make use of new technologies. Web scraping has gone mainstream across the internet with multiple tools and techniques that can scrape entire websites in minutes. The process of extracting entire websites is quick, accurate, and straightforward with the help of scraping bots, code, scripts, and web crawlers. 

What is Web Scraping?

Web scraping or web harvesting refers to using software to automatically harvest large amounts of HTML code from a website and then export that data into a usable format. Scraping bots are used to extract the underlying HTML code or data stored in a database. The scraped code can then be replicated into an entire website elsewhere.

Web scraping is especially useful for extracting large data sets from websites without an API or limited access. Web scraping is not copying and pasting one or two paragraphs from one page to another. 

In its broad definition, web scraping is used by businesses and individuals who want to access publicly available information to gain valuable insights and make smarter decisions. Web scraping is especially useful in the world of generative AI with massive loads of large language models. 

Is Web Scraping Legal?

There is a lot of confusion when defining the legalities of scraping data. Scraping is legal as long as the data is publicly available and it is not protected individual data or intellectual property. There is nothing shady or wrong about data scraping. However, the process needs to stay within boundaries to remain legal. It is often heard that web scraping operates in a gray area of the law or no one enforces laws on the books. None of that is true. 

Web scraping should be ethical and lawful. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Data scrapers do not overburden a targeted website
  • Information is publicly available on a network and not behind some password-protected barrier
  • Information copied did not infringe on another’s rights, including copyrights
  • Information copied was used to create a transformative product

If you decide to scrape data from a website, it is best to know the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

What is Web Scraping Used For?

In this modern world of big data websites and information, extracting data from publicly available sites has become an essential tool for businesses to stay ahead of their competition. 

Here are a few ways companies are using web scraping to their benefit.

  • Pricing strategies and intelligence is helping businesses to use automated pricing solutions to MAP monitoring insights. 
  • Market research is critical for every business, and high-quality web-scraped data fuels better global business research. 
  • Data-driven product insights, from e-commerce to auto listings, give companies a competitive edge.
  • Finance data is explicitly tailored for investors, adding value to decision-making. The world’s leading financial institutions are increasingly using web-scraped data.
  • Lead generation is a significant benefit for some smaller companies using industry-specific, scraped data to kick-start their efforts. 

Data Mining vs. Web Scraping

When most of us hear the terms data mining and web scraping, they think the phrases are interchangeable; they are not. Data mining is analyzing large data sets that can deliver insights and trends for businesses relying on the data. On the other hand, web scraping is the process of collecting data from a website in an automated manner. 

Finding relevant information in large blocks of data sets that can be used for predictive modeling means data is the critical ingredient, which means the more data available, the better the trends and predictive behavior. Where do organizations get the quality data they need to make their business work? This is where web scraping comes into play.

To get enough data to drive insights, web scraping uses intelligent automation engines to retrieve millions of data points from the internet’s endless well of information. Data mining and web scraping are different tools that help organizations thrive. 

Automatic Data Extraction

Large e-commerce websites and similar businesses regularly use traditional web scraping to get pricing or description information. There are excellent platforms that can manually achieve these results. However, in recent years, enterprising developers have harnessed automation to perform the same tasks. 

Automatic Extraction reliably gets the data a company needs, even from ever-changing websites. Automatic Extraction has become a huge time saver for organizations that need large data sets on a schedule. Companies no longer have to maintain their own extraction code as well.

Key Features of Automatic Web Scraping

  • No need to write specific code for every website a company wants to extract data from. Just feed a list of page URLs to scrape, and the API code extracts data on a schedule. 
  • Extracting data automatically harnesses deep learning methods to help retrieve accurate data in seconds rather than days. Many automatic tools available today support over 40 languages to scrape data worldwide.
  • Data extraction scripts can easily break if a web page changes suddenly or often. Automatic Extraction gets the data even if a website changes content often. Automatic Extraction takes the pain from always maintaining a specific code.

Five Web Scraping Tools

The popularity of web scraping has been growing exponentially with the rise of the internet. The same goes for the number of web scraping tools that have come to market. Some solutions are comprehensive for scraping data at scale, while others are for one-time smaller jobs.

  • Bright Data Web Scraper is built for developers to use at scale. Offers readymade scraping templates.
  • OxyLabs Web Scraper is a tool to collect real-time public web data.
  • Apify is a simple, no-code, automated web scraping platform. 
  • Scrape.do provides a fast, scalable proxy web scraper. 
  • Parse Hub is a free web scraper with more features than many paid platforms. 

Make Sure to Use the Right Tools if You Opt to Scrape the Web

The rise of online businesses has created a need to find the right tools to make it work and become profitable. Web scraping is an easy way to gain market share and competitor intelligence. If you plan to use data found during web scraping, find the right tool, and it can make a tremendous difference in a business if done correctly and on a regular schedule.

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