Web scraping is a data scraping technique. Data scraping is defined as a technique in which one computer program extracts data from another program's human readable output. Screen scraping, Web scraping, and Report mining is the three variants of the data scraping technique. Data scraping is used as a last resort ad-hoc measure for the automated processing of data interchange when other transfer protocols are not compatible with the source from where data needs to be transferred. It is also sometimes used to interface with a third party system that is incompatible with standard transfer protocols. While it is beneficial to many marketing and business organizations, especially those related to finance and the stock markets, some operators may consider data scraping illegal due to loss of control over information on their web pages.
How does web scraping occur?
Web scraping is usually applied to web pages. Its main activity involves gathering web pages that have potentially useful data. Extracting data from these web pages is the subsequent step. These steps are automated by modeling a software program. These software programs can be customized to scrape specific kinds of data at the desired quantities and location. They can be automated to promptly detect a web page's structure and collect it for extraction. Some of the tools used to customize are URL which targets URLs, Data Toolbar which is an add-on for popular web browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, etc., Octoparse which can categorize data into databases.
Can web scraping be beneficial?
Web pages display data in different forms like text, pictures, graphic videos, etc. This display exists only as long as the web page is open. Users cannot save it on their devices to use it in the future. They will have to manually copy and paste the data into a word document for instance and save it. This becomes tedious for multiple pages. Web scraping offers an automated data mining method to save large quantities data from multiple web pages onto a person's device for future use. Web scraping can be used to extract information from three broad categories on the internet,
- web content from web pages and other similar documents can be extracted
- web user information from server logs and browser activity tracking can be extracted
- web structure information from links between websites, people, etc can be extracted
Gathering these kinds of information helps companies understand the pricing of their products or services compared to rivals, gain insight on the kind of competition that they have currently and might have in the future, estimate how popular their brand is among different sections of people.
Potential dangers of Web scraping
While web scraping is not completely illegal, it cannot be defined entirely in the domain of an ethical technology. Since it has an ability to track server logs and access web pages that contain user information, it is a potential threat to people's identity and personal details being exposed if used by the wrong people. Hackers can technically use scraping to access personal details of an individual's finances. This can lead to theft. Extracting data from web pages that are access controlled by defense and security organizations can become dangerous to the security of nations. Web scraping bots can spam and even could lower an organization's reputation through posting spurious material or by removing essential data. Some of the most prominent sectors affected by web scraping are digital publishing, e-commerce, classifieds, airlines, etc.