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The Lowdown on Web Scraping

Published: 2023-10-03

Written By Owen Crisp

Web Scraping

Scraping information that is open and publicly available is in no way illegal, should it not be used for harmful purposes, damage or attack the host site, or breach any GDPR or data protection rules. After all, everyone has a right to privacy; though we bet you’ll be surprised to find out what is actually out there about you on the internet.

As defined: web scraping is the process of using automation such as bots/scripts to extract the information from the underlying HTML code of the site. By using a process of fetch and extract, it essentially downloads the data and then replicates to store it for later use.  

We Know What, But Why?

There are many uses of web scraping (sometimes know as web crawling, web data extraction, or web harvesting). Take recent news for example where in 2023 Twitter implemented emergency procedures to limit access to its services following unfathomable stress on its resources due to scraping. It’s CEO, Elon Musk, stated this likely to be a result of AI model training; where huge amounts of data are scraped from large sites to train the machine learning algorithms they’re built form. Aside from this other uses include price comparison, data analysis, or research.

As to not cause system distress for the recipient, web scraping must be kept “within reason” for it to be considered ethical. All common and good reason aside, nobody should be scraping so much it’s seen as an attack. Keeping data scraping to a required minimum is the best way to ensure it’s fair for all. Scraping should not be used for any intrusive searches, or so intensive is causes the receivers systems to suffer. This would be unfair use, and can be seen as unlawful.

While it might collect a bad rep, web scraping can be an incredible tool- providing it being used correctly and fairly. Have you got any experience with web scraping?  

Some Best Practises

While collecting freely available information (en masse), we can still ensure we “scrape” the data in a way that is ethical. By ensuring we follow a few rules we can make sure that our data collection endeavours are fair and ethical. Here’s a few best practises we’re keen on:

🛠 Custom Scrapers Building custom scrapers is on of the key ways to ensure integrity and safety for the recipient. Sure, all in one’s are awesome but accidentally bringing a site down while trying to scrape it might cause more than just a headache. Custom tools ensure that you have the correct tool for the job, and limit the risk of any potential damage caused. Making use of basic but useful tools such as Beautiful Soup or selenium in the popular language Python can be a great place to start.

🌐 Use Proxies! Some sites actively defend against web scraping for many a reason. Web scraping without the correct precaution can be easily detected by web security and flagged as malicious. Accessing a site at superhuman speed from the same IP is one ways a site can detect and label you as “non human”. To avoid this, utilise rotating residential proxies. These will rotate your IP per web request, keeping your activity under the bot detection radar. Good news is, you’re in the right place for residential proxies: click here.

📜 Parsing Properly Parsing data periodically can ensure what you are collecting is what you were after in the first place. There’s nothing worse than spending time and resourcing crawling a target only to find out the data is was collecting is unusable or not fit for your original purpose. Using a web scraper with a built in parsing tool can begin to establish data structure early on using a predetermined rule set. This can be especially helpful when scraping multiple locations. If done periodically, it can eliminate the issue at the source; just incase your scraper is flagged by antibot therefore being directed to a different location and disrupting data collection.

The data might be free and out there for for you, but applying a solid structure and some best practises can ensure you’re scraping the best way possible.

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