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Is Scraping E-Commerce Websites Legal? A Comprehensive Guide

Is Scraping E-Commerce Websites Legal? A Comprehensive Guide
Is Scraping E-Commerce Websites Legal? A Comprehensive Guide

In the dynamic world of e-commerce, data is king. At Datahut, we specialize in web scraping services, a powerful tool in the arsenal of e-commerce companies seeking to stay ahead in the market. We frequently encounter questions about the legality of web scraping, especially when it pertains to e-commerce websites. This guide is an essential read for those looking to harness e-commerce data, including product details, customer reviews, and pricing strategies.

If you're navigating the broader landscape of web scraping legality, we recommend our previous blog, “Is Web Scraping Legal?”. It offers a comprehensive view of the general legalities surrounding web scraping.

Web scraping, though a cornerstone for data scientists and e-commerce strategists, treads a fine line in legal terms. This technique, which involves using automated scripts to extract data from websites, is often seen as operating in a grey area. The distinction between lawful data collection and potential infringement is delicate and demands careful navigation.

This blog aims to unravel the complexities of web scraping within the e-commerce sector. We will dissect the factors that define the legality of web scraping, spotlighting the thin line between permissible data harvesting and potential legal pitfalls. Our focus is to equip e-commerce entities with the knowledge to employ web scraping services both effectively and ethically, ensuring adherence to legal standards.

As a provider committed to responsible web scraping, it's our duty to inform you about the potential risks associated with scraping e-commerce websites. We'll discuss the legal nuances of such activities and suggest strategies to mitigate risks, ensuring your data collection practices remain within the ambit of the law.

Fun fact: web scraping has many synonyms. It is often referred to as screen scraper, data scraper, bot, web scraper, or just scraper. Everything means the same thing. So if you see a synonym in between - don't get confused.

Is Scraping E-Commerce Websites Legal - Why you should care about the answer to this question?

The simple answer is, that if you're not Google or Apple, the fines for non-compliance could potentially bankrupt you.

Laws applicable to web scraping ecommerce websites
Laws applicable to web scraping

Data scraping, the automated extraction of data from websites, presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, it offers a wealth of publicly available information, enabling businesses to conduct market research, monitor competitor pricing, and gain insights into consumer behavior. On the other hand, it raises concerns about data privacy, intellectual property rights, and the potential for misuse of scraped data.

With the rise of data privacy regulations and the increasing complexity of legal frameworks, web scraping compliance has become paramount to ensure ethical and lawful data acquisition. The data privacy laws in different countries are designed with huge fines in the event of non-compliance.

Compliance with data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, is crucial for organizations engaging in web scraping. These regulations mandate responsible data handling practices, including data minimization, transparency, and user consent. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in significant fines and reputational damage.

Ethical web scraping involves adhering to responsible data extraction principles, respecting website owners' terms of service, and ensuring that scraped data is used for legitimate purposes. It also entails implementing appropriate data security measures to protect sensitive information.

Web scraping tools can be powerful allies in data acquisition, but they should be employed with caution and within the bounds of compliance. Organizations should carefully evaluate the legality and ethics of their web scraping practices to avoid potential legal and reputational repercussions.

Respecting copyrights

Navigating the intricate realm of copyright law and respecting copyrights is crucial for web scraping initiatives. Copyright infringement, the unauthorized use of copyrighted material, can have severe consequences, including hefty fines, legal action, and reputational damage. To avoid such pitfalls, it is essential to adhere to fair use guidelines and understand the legal boundaries of web scraping.

Even before starting to use the scraped data, check if any data you will use is copyrighted. If you're in doubt - take counsel from the legal department. We know a case where a mere $400 freelance scraping job turned into a $200K settlement because the person who used the data didn't take enough precautions.

Fair use, a fundamental principle in copyright law, allows for limited and transformative use of copyrighted material without infringing the copyright owner's rights. This doctrine promotes the free flow of information and enables creativity and innovation. However, the boundaries of fair use are complex and often require careful consideration.

To ensure compliance with copyright law, web scraping tool should adopt a responsible and ethical approach. This includes obtaining explicit permission from the copyright owner when necessary, respecting privacy laws, and avoiding the collection of sensitive personal data.

Additionally, adhering to Creative Commons licenses, which provide a framework for sharing and reusing copyrighted works, can help minimize copyright infringement risks.

By understanding copyright law, applying fair use principles, and respecting fundamental human rights, web scrapers can navigate the digital landscape responsibly and ethically, fostering a balance between innovation and copyright protection. Clearly align your web scraping needs with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its provisions.

Scraping private information/ scraping behind a login

What would you do if the data you need is behind a login?

If you're learning about the legality of scraping ecommerce websites - you can never miss this piece.

It's essential to understand the legal and ethical considerations when it comes to scraping non-public information behind a login. Non-public information, often protected by user credentials or restricted access, is typically off-limits for scraping without proper authorization. The key to navigating this terrain successfully is to obtain permission from the website owner or administrator.

When scraping web data, it's crucial to distinguish between public data and non-public data. Public data is readily accessible to anyone visiting the website, and scraping it is generally considered legal.

However, non-public data, such as user profiles, sales information, or other confidential data behind a login wall, is a different matter. Unauthorized scraping of non-public information is illegal, as it violates the website's terms of service and potentially infringes upon privacy laws.

To scrape non-public data, you must collaborate with the website owner and seek explicit permission. In some cases, websites provide APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow developers to access structured data in a controlled and legal manner. Furthermore, services like Datahut provide a bridge for web scrapers to access data without overloading the target website's servers and adhere to ethical scraping practices. However, exercising caution and ensuring you remain compliant with legal and ethical standards when scraping data behind a login is essential.

In summary, scraping non-public information behind a login can be valuable, but it must be carried out legally. Always seek permission from the website owner.

Trespass to chattel:

Trespass to chattels is a legal action in the United States that can be used to protect personal property from unauthorized use. In the context of web scraping, this means that a website owner could sue a web scraper for trespass to chattels if their excessive crawling caused damage to the website's servers.

Amazon, for example, has a massive inventory of products and services, with over 350 million items listed in its Marketplace by Amazon sellers. Getting the product data of all these products is a gold mine for a data science professional. If a web scraper were to attempt to scrape the entire inventory within a short period of time, such as 30 days, it would generate a large number of requests to Amazon's servers within a short time. This could potentially overload the servers and cause them to malfunction.

The United States has no specific legal limit on crawl rates. However, if a web scraper's excessive crawling causes damage to a website's servers, the person responsible for the damage could be prosecuted under the trespass to chattels law.

The trespass to chattels law is an intentional tort, meaning that the web scraper must have intended to cause harm to the website's servers. It is also necessary that the web scraper's actions were the proximate cause of the damage to the servers.

In the case of Amazon, if a web scraper were to scrape the entire inventory within 30 days and cause the website to malfunction, it is possible that the scraper could be held liable for trespass to chattels. However, it would be necessary to prove that the scraper intended to cause harm to Amazon's servers and that the excessive crawling was the proximate cause of the damage.

This charge is a felony violation that is on par with hacking or denial of service attacks and carries up to a 15-year sentence in some countries.

The moral of the story: Limit the crawl rate, the web crawler should be that way by design. Otherwise, extracting large amounts of data can invite legal action and potentially result in heavy fines.

The Legal Battle of Web Scraping under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is a federal criminal law that prohibits accessing a computer without authorization. In the context of web scraping, this law has been used to argue against the practice of extracting data from websites without their consent. However, recent court rulings have challenged this interpretation of the CFAA, suggesting that web scraping of publicly available data may be permissible.

One notable case involving the CFAA and web scraping is HiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corporation. In this case, HiQ Labs, a data analytics company, was sued by LinkedIn for scraping data from its publicly accessible website. HiQ Labs argued that its web scraping activities were legal under the CFAA, as the data it was collecting was publicly available and not protected by a password or other security measures.

The case ultimately reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled in favor of HiQ Labs. The court found that web scraping of publicly available data does not violate the CFAA, as the CFAA was not intended to regulate the collection of publicly available information. The court also noted that the CFAA does not distinguish between accessing a website through a traditional web browser or through an automated scraping tool.

This ruling has significant implications for the practice of web scraping. It suggests that companies may be able to scrape publicly available data from websites without fear of legal repercussions under the CFAA. However, it is important to note that the Ninth Circuit's decision is not binding on other courts, and the law surrounding web scraping is still evolving. So, keep an eye on how the court decides on the merit of web scraping under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

Best practices for web scraping compliance while scraping e-commerce websites

Is Scraping E-Commerce Websites Legal? A Comprehensive Guide
How to legally scrape an ecommerce website

In the dynamic world of e-commerce, web scraping has emerged as a valuable tool for extracting valuable data, enabling businesses to gain insights into market trends, competitor strategies, and customer behavior. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and web scrapers must navigate the legal and ethical landscape carefully to ensure compliance and avoid potential repercussions.

1. Prioritize APIs over Scraping

Whenever possible, utilize the website's official Application Programming Interface (API) to extract data. APIs provide a structured and authorized method for accessing and retrieving data, aligning with the website owner's terms of service and minimizing the risk of unauthorized scraping.

2. Use a reasonable Crawl Rates

To avoid overburdening a website's servers and causing any disruptions, it is essential to adhere to reasonable crawl rates. By slowing down the frequency of scraping requests, you can ensure a steady and manageable flow of data retrieval. This approach not only prevents overwhelming the website but also helps maintain its optimal performance. It's a responsible practice that benefits both the scraper and the website owner.

3. Optimize crawling patterns

web scraping e-commerce websites typically includes two processes: web crawling - or finding the links to the product and then going to the PDP page and extracting the required items. A lot of times, due to the poor design of the screen scraping tool - the web crawler goes to the same link multiple times, causing unwanted resource usage. Make sure you cache the urls you already visited, and that are saved as you scrape. Even if the scraper breaks down due to an issue - you can resume the scraping instead of starting over.

4. Employ Anonymization Techniques

To protect your privacy and minimize the risk of legal action, it is crucial to implement effective anonymization techniques for web scraping.

Anonymization serves as a vital safeguard in the world of web scraping. By employing multiple IP addresses, web scrapers can distribute their scraping activities across different sources, making it difficult for website owners to track the origin of the requests. This enhances the scraper's ability to collect data and helps mitigate the associated legal risks.

Using headless browsers is another effective method of anonymization. These browsers allow web scraping activities to be conducted the same way as a human would. By operating in this manner, the scraper can ensure a lower profile and avoid triggering any red flags that may lead to legal consequences.

In addition to these methods, other applicable techniques can be employed to further enhance anonymization. These may include rotating User-Agent strings, employing random delays between requests, or utilizing proxy servers. Each technique adds an additional layer of anonymity and reduces the likelihood of detection or legal repercussions.

It is important to highlight that while anonymization techniques can significantly reduce the risk of litigation, they do not guarantee absolute protection. Website owners may employ various measures to identify and block scrapers, and legal frameworks related to web scraping can vary across jurisdictions. Therefore, it is crucial for web scrapers to familiarize themselves with the legal requirements and restrictions specific to their target websites and comply with all applicable laws and terms of service.

By prioritizing user privacy protection through effective anonymization techniques, web scrapers can minimize legal risks, ensure ethical data collection practices, and maintain a positive reputation within the industry. Anonymization is one technology that we’ve pioneered at Datahut.

4. Extract Necessary Data

To ensure the legality of scraping ecommerce websites, it is crucial to focus on extracting specific data relevant to your project. Rather than indiscriminately scraping every piece of information, extracting only the necessary data that directly contributes to your objectives is advisable.

By doing so, you can avoid unnecessary data collection and reduce the load on the website. This targeted approach ensures compliance with legal regulations and improves the efficiency of your scraping efforts. Remember, the key is to extract the specific data required for your project while being mindful of the website's terms of service and any applicable laws governing data scraping.

5. Assess Copyright Issues

When beginning a web scraping project, it is vital to thoroughly examine the target website's terms of service and copyright policies. Seek legal advice to ensure proper and fair usage, proceeding with caution. It is crucial to refrain from scraping copyrighted material without obtaining prior authorization.

6. Restrict to Public Data

When it comes to the legality of scraping ecommerce websites, it is crucial to ensure that you only scrape publicly available data.

Scraping publicly available data refers to gathering information from web pages that are intended for public consumption. These are the pages anyone can visit and view without needing special permissions or credentials. Examples of publicly available data on ecommerce websites may include product information such as prices, descriptions, images, and customer reviews. It may also include details about shipping policies, return policies, and other related data the website owner has made accessible to the public.

However, it is crucial to be mindful not to scrape private or restricted data that is not intended for public consumption. This includes any data that requires login credentials, such as user accounts, personal information, or any content behind paywalls or restricted access pages. Accessing and scraping such data without proper authorization or consent can lead to legal complications and may infringe on privacy rights.

To illustrate the importance of this distinction, let's consider an example. Imagine you are building a price comparison website, and you want to scrape product prices from various ecommerce websites. In this case, you would focus on scraping the publicly available data on the websites, such as the product prices listed on the product pages. Doing so lets you provide accurate and up-to-date information to your users without violating any legal or ethical boundaries.

On the other hand, scraping private or restricted data, such as customer databases or personalized recommendations, would be unauthorized and potentially illegal. This type of data is typically protected by the website owner and is not meant to be accessed or used by third parties without proper authorization.

7. Find the optimal frequency

When it comes to scraping an e-commerce website, determining the appropriate frequency for data extraction is a key consideration. One common scenario is price scraping from competitor websites. However, deciding on the ideal frequency can be a challenge. Drawing from our 12 years of experience in providing web scraping services, we have some valuable insights to share.

Our recommendation is to start with a weekly extraction and monitor the data for a few weeks. This initial period will allow you to gauge the frequency of changes in the data. Depending on the observed rate of change, you can then adjust the extraction frequency accordingly.

In high-velocity categories such as mobile phones or groceries, where prices and availability may fluctuate frequently, obtaining daily updates of the data is essential. This lets you stay on top of the market dynamics and make informed decisions.

On the other hand, if you are targeting a category like sewing machines, where changes in prices and stock levels are relatively infrequent, you may find that a longer refresh interval of two weeks or even a monthly basis is sufficient.

By tailoring the frequency of your data extraction to the specific needs of your target category, you can optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of your scraping efforts. This approach ensures that you have access to the most up-to-date information while also avoiding unnecessary strain on the resources of the e-commerce website.

Remember, keeping a close eye on the frequency of changes in the data and adapting your scraping frequency accordingly is the key to obtaining valuable insights from an e-commerce website.

8. You don’t need all the data

When it comes to web scraping, it's important to note that in certain cases, obtaining a sample from a vast collection can be adequate. Take, for instance, scraping product reviews. Instead of extracting every single review, extracting 100 records from each star rating category might suffice to achieve your objective.

Similarly, going as deep as 3 to 4 pages might be enough if your goal is to gather search rankings for various keywords. However, conducting a thorough assessment before deploying your bots to scrape the desired data is crucial. This way, you can ensure that your scraping efforts are targeted and efficient.

9. Have a sharable knowledge base

Build a knowledge base with this information and share it with the team members using the web-scraped data. Use a simple Google sheet or notion, but have one knowledge base in place so the team knows what they are getting into.

A knowledge base is an organized repository of information that serves as a reference for team members. It plays a vital role in ensuring that everyone is on the same page in terms of understanding the legality and implications of web scraping in the context of ecommerce websites. The knowledge base should cover topics such as web scraping laws, data extraction practices, privacy concerns, and related legal actions and best practices.

Parting thoughts

With over 12 years of experience in the web scraping industry, handling complex projects, we've noticed a concerning trend: legality and compliance are often overlooked in the quest for maximum data at minimal cost. This approach is fraught with risks. We advise prioritizing a web scraping service that not only fulfills your data needs but also strictly adheres to legal and compliance standards.

Seeking a partner with expertise in legally compliant data extraction?

Consider Datahut.

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peter parker
peter parker
May 06

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