Last week, a judge in US federal court ruled in favor of a startup whose business centers on scraping professional network LinkedIn for public data to inform its own clients about their employees’ potential career moves.
LinkedIn objected to the practice, which is how the parties found themselves in a California courtroom.
And, at least initially, the startup seems to have prevailed. However, it’s not over yet and, as it plays out, this is a case that could have huge implications for data and privacy in the modern era – and perhaps even the search industry itself.
That’s because the case will ultimately determine how much control LinkedIn has over the public data it stores.
Chris Hart, head of US client development at ScribbleLive, said there are a number of additional questions, such as whether the startup has a right to build its business off of an unauthorized data source and how much control LinkedIn has over choosing which bots are allowed access to its data and which are not, as well as who is responsible for the additional cost LinkedIn incurs as a result of increased bot traffic.
“It is a very interesting case as bot use has done nothing but accelerate over time and there is little to no end in sight for that acceleration,” Hart added.
Marcus Miler, SEO and PPC strategist at digital marketing firm Bowler Hat, agreed it’s an interesting case in part because LinkedIn doesn’t want users scared of using its platform, but, at the same time, the information being scraped is public, which makes it seem unlikely LinkedIn could legally put any measures in place to prevent scraping.
David Erickson, vice president of online marketing at Karwoski & Courage Public Relations, however, said assuming the case fails upon appeal, both the general public and the search industry in particular will benefit.
That’s because criminalizing the practice of site scraping would have more negative consequences than the problem the lawsuit is trying to resolve.
“A lot of new content and many services are created through the mash-up of disparate content and/or data,” Erickson said. “That new content then becomes additional content for search engines to index, providing the world with additional valuable information and knowledge and, [for] search engines themselves, more ad inventory.”
Miller agreed if there was ever a court decision about scraping content, search engines would have a big problem.
“The data that search engines like Google use is almost entirely scraped data,” he said. “If Google was no longer able to scrape and store data, then they could not perform their basic function of cataloguing the ocean of information out there.”
That being said, Miller noted it’s unlikely such a judgment would ever be made as “it could be murky water if certain groups of people were not allowed access to public information.”
He added, “LinkedIn, for example, wants to be scraped by Google to appear in search results. They do not want to be scraped by this company as they don’t want a third party using information from their platform. One rule for one. One rule for another.”