Businesses depend on vast amounts of information more than ever. A survey by Ernst & Young highlights that 81% of high-level executives believe that data should be at the heart of decision-making.
Yet, while you dive deep into the web to extract this valuable information, there’s a fine line that separates the permissible from the prohibited. Beyond legality, there also exists ethics.
Web scraping may often be legal, but is it always ethical? Let’s delve into this topic and see how you can guarantee that you stick to ethical data mining principles.
Data mining stands at the intersection of technology and ethics. While the technical aspects of data mining are often discussed, the human implications — the challenges it poses to our societal and moral values — should get more attention.
Learn in more detail what is data mining and how it works in this article.
The question of data scraping ethicality isn’t black and white. As with many tools, its moral implications depend largely on how you use it. Still, it’s good to be aware of pressing data mining ethical concerns that arise during these activities.
Over the years, various instances have spotlighted the darker side of data extraction and analysis. Let’s explore some notable cases of unethical data mining.
Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook data of 87 million people without their explicit consent. It was then used to build voter profiles and target them with tailored political advertisements during the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections and the Brexit referendum. The scandal raised significant concerns about data privacy, user consent, and the potential of data mining to influence democratic processes.
Twitter has been fined $150m by US authorities for misusing user data meant for security to target advertisements. Despite assuring users that their email addresses and phone numbers would bolster account safety, Twitter matched this information with advertiser lists for targeted ads. This violation spanned from May 2013 to September 2019.
While Google’s Street View cars were mapping streets, they were also collecting data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. They fetched personal emails, passwords, and other internet activity data. Google admitted to the mistake and faced legal action and fines in multiple countries because of violating ethical web scraping principles.
Retail giant Target developed an algorithm to predict which shoppers might be pregnant based on their purchase patterns. The intent was to send targeted advertisements. However, this led to an incident where a teenager’s family found out about her pregnancy through promotional mail from Target. This case raised concerns about privacy and the ethical implications of predictive modeling.
As you see, not every scraping effort is ethical and legal. To avoid web scraping ethical issues, here are the tips from Nannostomus experts.
💡 When in doubt, directly reach out to website owners or administrators for permission to scrape their data.
The question of whether is web scraping ethical largely depends on the techniques you deploy. Here’s a quick look at some of the fundamental techniques employed in web mining.
APIs & SDKs
Targets specific data elements on a web page, not all available content.
Mimics human behavior instead of sending basic, repetitive requests (like randomized delays between requests and headless browsers).
Are provided by websites and platforms to grant structured, authorized access to their data.
Minimizes the bandwidth and server load
Avoids triggering anti-scraping mechanisms
Access data in the manner the site intended
Reduces the volume of data, which streamlines processing and storage
Respects the Terms of Service of the website
One of the most critical data mining ethical considerations is the intent behind this activity. Let’s take a look at what scraping purposes are commonly accepted as ethical:
How that data is stored carries equal weight in the ethical equation. So, to honor the source of the data and protect the rights of all stakeholders, mind implementing robust, transparent, and respectful storage practices.
Ethical web scraping and data storage are the pillars that uphold the integrity, trust, and authenticity of data-driven operations.
At Nannostomus, we deeply understand the weight of responsibility for the ethics of web scraping. Our practices are designed not just to fetch data but to ensure its moral sourcing, storage, and application. Our commitment to these principles ensures that data is procured with respect for all stakeholders involved. Contact us today to learn how we can arrange an ethical scraping flow for your project.