The Ethics Of Data Scraping

What is your position on the ethics of data scraping? Is it right, or is it wrong?

Huh? You’ve never even heard of data scraping? That’s not unusual; most people probably haven’t heard of it either.

But if you utilize a professional networking web site like LinkedIn, you place yourself at considerable risk if you fail to consider the presence of data scrapers.

Why? Because these firms “scrape” information off publicly available web sites and then use the data to produce products and services. One such firm, a small organization named hiQ, culls information from LinkedIn’s public profiles. Then it relies on that data to identify employees who may be seeking jobs elsewhere, and it reports those employees to their current employers.

How can hiQ possibly know if a LinkedIn user is looking for another job? It might assume, for instance, that an individual who suddenly updates his LinkedIn job profile might be tidying up his resume for a career search.

It certainly isn’t a foolproof method, but data scrapers don’t guarantee the predictive accuracy of their information. That’s why hiQ’s web site promises employers that it will simply “provide a crystal ball that helps you determine …turnover risks months ahead of time.

LinkedIn, needless to say, is displeased with hiQ’s use of its data. It is now engaged in a legal action to compel hiQ to cease these activities.

So what do you think? Is hiQ acting in an ethical manner? Is it right to make a profit by using a person’s data, without notifying him, to inform his employer that he might be looking for employment elsewhere?

To be sure, reasonable minds may differ about whether data scraping is an ethical business activity. But regardless of your opinion about this question, perhaps we can agree on a practical implication.

The next time you’re ready to update your LinkedIn profile, you should stop and think for a moment. Do you really want to do it?

It may not be a harmless action. After all, your employer may be tracking you.