Every time you open a web page and copy something from it into an Excel document or into notes, that counts as scraping a web page. Web scraping is just another name for extracting publicly accessible information from websites.
Scraping is not hacking. Unlike hacking, web scraping is the legitimate extraction of data. The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed this and stated that scraping is legal if the data is publicly available. Thus, information published on the open web is considered fair game for scraping.
I don’t steal personal data or trade secrets; I extract terabytes of public data and translate them into a language that machines can understand.
Ondra Urban – Head of Growth at Apify
Companies all around the world use web scraping to extract vast amounts of data from the internet to optimize their processes and develop new products. For them, web scraping is a way to get data in a structured format that they can work with.
Businesses in a wide range of industries need to collect data for price monitoring, product tracking, lead generation, marketing, brand sentiment, tracking trends, and more. Since collecting vast amounts of data is very time-consuming and complicated, businesses are turning to web scraping automation platforms that can turn tens of millions of web pages into hundreds of millions of lines in Excel every day.
It isn’t just businesses that are using web scraping technology. Individuals use web scraping for side projects, such as weather monitoring for surfing, checking sales in their favorite stores, finding specific items on online marketplaces, and academic research in science, literature, psychology, and medicine.
Some of the obstacles are technical; others are legal. The technical obstacles are blocking based on IP address, CAPTCHAs, or bot identification using digital fingerprints. These technical obstacles are another reason people turn to web scraping platforms. Ready-made web scrapers are built with these obstacles in mind, and you can contact the experts to help resolve any complications that may arise from particular web scraping tasks if you use their tools.
The legal obstacles include the protection of personal data or copyright issues. These lead to the question of whether it’s even possible to extract the data in question legally. If not, you shouldn’t scrape that website, even if it doesn’t actively prevent you from doing so. This approach is called ethical web scraping.
The most significant trend is that web scraping has gone from being an outlier to part of the technological stack of companies of all sizes. Web scraping has even gained protection under European Union legislation. Free access to publicly available data is a fundamental right of every internet user, and it would appear that the law is moving in that direction, too. Most recently (and famously), data scraped from Twitter was used in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard court case:
There are many impressive use cases of web scraping in the area of corporate social responsibility. Social media scrapers are currently being used for neural machine translation of low-resourced languages at Prague’s Faculty of Formal and Applied Linguistics. This is happening in collaboration with the Welcome project to help the reception and integration of third-country nationals.
The US non-profit organization, Thorn, has used Apify’s web scrapers to collect photos and videos from American escort sites to fight against human trafficking and child abuse. As a result, Thorn has identified more than 17,000 child victims of human trafficking.
Omdena used a Google Search Results Scraper to find ways of minimizing the impact of climate change. Shadow employed web scraping to reunite lost dogs with their humans. A Smart Article Extractor became a means of identifying fake news.
Not long ago, the web was completely static, and websites were more like books or catalogs rather than the full-featured applications we know today. Microsoft Office only existed as a desktop application. Today you can run the full version of Office directly in a browser. Websites have become web applications, and the browser is your new operating system.
When websites were just static pages, you couldn’t do much with them. But the more functional the websites are, the more space there is for new products that use and combine those functions. Thanks to web scraping tools, machines will be doing the manual work by communicating with each other through APIs and automation processes. In other words, web scraping will make the web more programmable and free up our time to focus on the things that matter.
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