“Web scraping” or “Web harvesting” — the practice of extracting large amounts of data from publicly available websites using automated “bots” or “spiders” — accounted for 18 percent of site visitors and 23 percent of all Internet traffic in 2013. Websites targeted by scrapers may incur damages resulting from, among other things, increased bandwidth usage, network crashes, the need to employ anti-spam and filtering technology, user complaints, reputational damage, and costs of mitigation that may be incurred when scrapers spam users, or worse, steal their personal data.
Though sometimes difficult to combat, scraping is quite easy to perform. A simple online search will return a large number of scraping programs, both proprietary and open source, as well as DIY tutorials. Of course, scraping can be beneficial in some cases. Companies with limited resources may use scraping to access large amounts of data, spurring innovation and allowing such companies to identify and fill areas of consumer demand. For example, Mint.com reportedly used screen scraping to aggregate information from bank websites, which allowed users to track their spending and finances.
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Originally published in Law360 on August 25, 2014.
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