How to stay legal and ethical while scraping social media
Gleb Lepeshkin
Gleb Lepeshkin Published: 2023/04/14

With over 4 billion million users worldwide, social media platforms have become a lucrative data tidbit for market analysts, recruitment executives and business owners around the planet. This fact dramatically increased the popularity of all types of data scraping on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin: bots and automated scrapers crawl the social media for geo-targeted info on businesses, prospect candidates, customers and decision makers in all possible areas. But is it all legal in the first place? And how can you maintain ethical standards while automating your process of gathering publicly available data from social media platforms? 

In this article we will give you some explicit answers to these types of questions and offer suggestions as far as adjusting your social media related scraping activities to avoid the violation of the media’s terms of use. We will also cover some of the most talked about legal initiatives in the area of data mining. And from the technical perspective, we will also touch upon the issue of the use of proxies for safe scraping of platforms and the ethical aspects of it as well. 

But to start uncovering the subject, we will begin with a few insights on what kind of benefits data mining brings to research companies, SaaS providers and their end users. What is social media so unique for in terms of data supply for the market? 

Why Scraping Social Media is a Big Deal?

All types of businesses across all industries are looking for new customers. If most of your customers are accessible through the web, then you can greatly benefit from web scraping for lead generation. This is a process, where you gain contact info on your prospect clientele (phones, emails) via scraping publicly available information online. 

Scraping for Leads and Outbound Recruitment

Depending on the specifics of your business, you can collect a lot of info on your future clients through gathering data on Yelp, YellowPages and Google for Business. 

In the event that you are engaged in outbound recruitment, your scraping activities will be concentrated around Linkedin and Facebook. Here you will be able to place certain criteria for a SaaS tool to get back to you with candidates matching the requirements. True, a lot of such work can be done through tedious and meticulous tasks on industrial forums and interest groups, but scraping powered by reliable recruitment proxies expedites this process significantly.

Scraping for Fraud Prevention and Brand Monitoring 

Other areas of application of web crawlers and scrapers include all kinds of activities directed against fraud. 

For instance, you can use crawlers to check the compliance with your terms of services. With the right crawler or scraper, powered with geo-targeted IPs (static or rotating proxies), you can check on your ads, for example, that should be published against the content that you approved. This particular case can be implemented by using a crawler with blacklisted words that should not appear on the sites where your ads are placed. And in the geo-specific case, this could easily involve the use of residential static proxies

The same type of crawler with proxies for fraud prevention can help you in detecting the sales of illegal or counterfeited goods on marketplaces. You can use a crawler to alert you on the sites that would place such products for sale next to your goods. Again, here you can use keywords for fast detection of items placed for sale illegally to prevent fraudulent activities of your sales partners. 

What are the Main Goals for Linkedin Scraping?

Among all kinds of examples related to business info scraping, the cases with Linkedin involving Linkedin proxies are the most revealing, since it is really a goldmine of actionable data that is desired by analysts all over the Net. The following are just some of the examples of the types of information that can be scraped from Linkedin:

  • Info on users from publicly available profiles
  • Compiled info from Linkedin groups
  • Job listings data and info on job requirements
  • Company profiles and more…

All of the above can be used in Lead Generation missions, and you can buy proxies for lead generation to power scrapers with them to help you build outreach campaigns and create databases of potential customers and end-users of your tools and services. 

Also, you can use the data from posts and responses for Customer Research. By studying how users engage with some products and services, you can build behavioral patterns for your business campaigns. 

And, most importantly, scraped data will help you in your product Brand Monitoring. You will have a clear understanding of the public opinion on your goods and services by studying both positive and negative feedback. 

What Kind of Web Scraping is Legal?

Now that we have considered why some social media sites and platforms are being continuously scraped, we can move on to the issue of scraping legality. So, is scraping legal? In one word, YES. As long as you collect publicly available information without any malicious intent. And the scrapers are also legal tools as long as they are not used for breaking the law. 

You automatically put yourself into a “gray area”, when engaging in scraping without following the Terms of Service (ToS) of the target website. Also, it is good to be aware that some aspects of personal and copyrighted information scraping are covered by laws including: Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and other acts on copyright infringement. 

Scraping Personal Information Specifics

When you collect information from the open sources that constitutes personal data, such as: name of an individual, data of birth, phone number and address, social security number (passport number or national ID), email address, work information, medical records and so on, the further use of such data has to be lawful and the scraper should follow certain legal principles in handling the information. 

On the surface it appears that if a person is made his information available on his or her profile, it assumes that you could collect and use this info for your business purposes. But it is not quite the case.  

In the EU all the personal data scraping falls under the purview of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that came into effect in 2018. It lays down the principles of how businesses can treat information and personal data of individuals. It also stipulates the rules of handling sensitive information such as political views, biometric data, sexual orientation and medical records of people.

So, if your company is involved in data scraping of any information pertaining to EU citizens, you should comply with GDPR regardless of the physical and legal placement of your business. 

For the United States similar regulations and acts are available on the state level. For California, for instance, there is the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) that will be replaced in 2023 by CPRA (California’s Privacy Rights Act). And here we will see some provisions that will allow scraping of personal information previously made publicly available by individuals. But this will apply solely to California.  

Scraping Copyrighted Content

I think you guessed it right: you need a permission or license from the copyrighted content owner to access or copy any such material. So, if you decide to scrape for movies, music, images, scientific reports, business databases, or scrape Bing SERP you need to make sure that this data is not protected by copyright. 

Although, there is an exception to this rule: you cannot apply copyright to product names, merchandize description and sales volume figures. This information can be scraped without any implications.

Also, many of you must have heard about the “fair use” of data. According to the US fair use doctrine, the scraped information that falls under this definition must be substantially altered from the original or should be used for research purposes without republication.

Scraping case: HiQ Labs vs Linkedin

Over the years, there have been some court cases that were directly connected with the area of social media scraping. One of such cases involved a research company HiQ Labs and Linkedin. The platform detected some cases of abusive scraping practices on the part of HiQ Labs and insisted on ceasing the scraping activities by the lab. Later Linkedin blocked the access by HiQ to its public profiles altogether. 

HiQ Labs claimed that its scraping was in the public domain and was completely legal. In 2019 the court ruled in favor of HiQ Labs. Linkedin tried to appeal the decision but ultimately in April 2022 the court took the side of HiQ Labs underlining the legality of public data scraping in this case. 

Terms of Use and Robots.txt file

Terms of Use agreement or TOU is an integral part of any site. It stipulates the underlying conditions of rendering the services by the site or platform to its users or visitors. So, next time you click the “I Agree” box “just” to view Instagram profiles, be aware that you are agreeing to terms and conditions of the website and such agreement becomes legally binding.

Another great tool for making your scraping missions legitimate is the Robots.txt file that outlines the rules for any automated interactivities with the site by bots (including sophisticated Linkedin lead generation bots) and crawlers. So, if the Terms of Use (or Terms of Service) agreement and the Robots.txt file restrict scraping, you should ask the site owners for permission to proceed with data collection in order to avoid further legal actions. 

Best Practices of Ethical Web Scraping

If executed ethically, scraping is viewed as a great tool for collecting vital business information for marketing or product improvement. Unless it is used for blatant plagiarism, scraping is totally viewed as a justified way to untapping data supply in the areas where API is not provided by the websites. 

So, how do we go about making our scraping missions ethical? We have compiled a list of best practices to help you with that.

Respect the Target Website 

Avoid overloading the target website of your scraping by sending myriads of requests. Pace out your data collection, so that your mission does not stand in the way of other users. Way too aggressive scraping may result in crashing the website making it inaccessible to all users. Also, try scheduling your scraping activities during the off-peak hours for the target website. And if you scrape Instagram from multiple accounts, set up your scraper with a proxy for Instagram to work with one account at a time to avoid multiple requests from a single IP.

Scrape the Required Data and Avoid Copyrighted Materials

While on the mission using private proxies for web scraping, target only the data that you need for your research. Avoid collecting copyrighted materials. If in doubt, go through the Terms of Use of the site to have a clear understanding about the nature of its contents.   

User Agents and Specialized Scrapers 

If you want to avoid any problems during scraping in the first place, you can “ask” the target site by informing on scraping in your browser’s or bot’s user agent. And, of course, you can achieve much better results by scraping using specialized tools. It will maximize your outreach and make the process safe and transparent. You can also apply for the services of a scraping agency that has enough experience in the area to ensure the high efficiency of the whole endeavor. 

Consider PrivateProxy Your Trusted Partner

During any kind of scraping missions involving data collection from social media platforms you want to make sure that you can rely on the tools that allow you to smoothly go about the site gathering the precious intel. We at PrivateProxy are well aware about the requirements you place before the proxies that help your scraping bots perform their job effectively every time you launch them. 

Once you decide to buy social media proxies, we would gladly consult you on the type of IPs that you need to scrape data from your online targets. You can approach us for the best-in-breed proxy servers to power your tools. Our account managers will handpick the IPs for you from the vast pools of servers to match the criteria. Geo-targeted residential proxies or fast-performing datacenter proxies – we have all types of IPs to pick from. So, do not hesitate and text us now for your private proxies for safe and ethical scraping

Disclaimer: This article does not, by any means, constitute legal advice. Views expressed are purely opinion and are not legally binding. Consult with your trusted legal counsel for advice specific to your project, country or application.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Please read our Documentation if you have questions that are not listed below.

  • Is scraping legal?

    Strictly speaking, Yes! Scraping is completely legitimate if it is done ethically, without violating the Terms of Use of the target site, or laws applicable to personal information use or copyright infringement laws.

  • Will your proxy for scraping work with my bot?

    Our proxies are compatible with all popular bots used for scraping on all social media platforms, marketplaces and search engines. Text us directly to find out more details on the use of our proxies for scraping.

  • What type of proxy can be used for ethical scraping?

    You can use residential proxies for geo-targeted scraping and datacenter proxies for high-speed scraping. The main issue is to proceed with scraping ethically, without causing the target site to overload. For that, you will need to be careful with the settings of your scraper bot or script.

  • How do I set up your proxies for scraping?

    You will be able to access your easy-to-use dashboard for using your IPs. If you have any specific questions as to how to integrate the proxies into your custom-built tool, approach our tech support team at any moment for advice.

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