It is no secret that numerous companies and individuals are involved in data extraction today. Data mining can range fairly modest in scale to huge operations requiring private dedicated servers. The data scraping industry was worth over $2 billion globally in 2019 and is expected to be more than double this by 2027.
The data scraping software market itself was valued at $421 million in 2019, but by 2030 will be nearly $1.7 billion. Clearly then, data extraction is a growth area. Businesses may not like the idea that their data is being collected, but there is a reasonable chance that they are also mining information from rivals.
One of the concerns with data scraping though is getting banned. While this may seem like nothing more than an inconvenience, blacklisting will slow or halt data extraction. So, how can you scrape data effectively, without being identified and banned?
Why do businesses use data scraping?
Today, businesses make more decisions driven by data than ever before. And data is now more accessible than it has ever been. Even the competition’s data.
To make smart business decisions in a competitive market data analysis and research must be done. Collecting and managing data is expensive and time-consuming. However, data scraping offers a fast and effective way to collect large amounts of data from other websites.
The ecommerce market was worth $600 billion in 2021, in the US alone. Imagine how much sales, pricing, and product data is available among all those related websites. If you targeted relevant websites for data scraping then you could amass a vast amount of information fairly quickly, and this can be used to give businesses the edge over their rivals.
Common uses for data collection include:
- Social listening
- SEO tracking
- Price comparison
- Content collection
Data extraction allows the competition to be studied, and to form a more successful business strategy and improved marketing. Proxy companies note that price comparison is one of the biggest reasons for data scraping, and retail companies use this strategy often. However, as Proxyempire points out, without a reliable proxy, you could find yourself blacklisted.
Why do companies blacklist and ban scrapers?
Businesses protect their data as if it were gold, and in many cases, it is likely to be more valuable. Content extraction is one of the most common types of web scraping to occur. Website owners put a lot of time and research into making effective content that is engaging and optimized for search engines.
So, it can be frustrating when another website simply scrapes all the content to make up new pages for its own site. Original content is effectively stolen to be published on another site in the hope that this will propel more traffic and increase conversions.
It is believed that up to 2% of online revenue gets lost due to web scraping, and content scraping is perhaps the worst example. Therefore, if security such as web analytic tools or an engineer spot suspicious traffic then they will flag it. This can result in IP addresses being blacklisted and banned.
What are the benefits and risks of data scraping?
The biggest benefit of web scraping is perhaps being able to collect huge amounts of accurate data at a relatively low cost and in a short space of time. Each request may only take 1 second or 2, and you could have 1,000 concurrent IPs running, so vast numbers of web pages can be scraped quickly.
This provides valuable data, and the industries that use web scraping the most are these:
- Retail and ecommerce
- Marketing and advertising
- Real estate
These industries are the ones that use and benefit the most from web scraping, and even hedge funds are using this form of data extraction to gain a competitive edge. You can track competitor prices with data mining, and adjust your products accordingly, and there are more benefits.
The benefits of web scraping
One advantage to collecting data this way is that it is largely legal. As long as you don’t start trying to extract confidential information or start rooting around in a company’s intellectual property, you will be doing nothing wrong.
The benefits of web scraping are that you can keep your business competitive. You can improve SEO by tracking your rival’s use of keywords and title tags. You can use web scraping to collect contact information for potential customers, and spot sales opportunities.
The risks of data scraping
The most common problem with data scraping is having your IP address blacklisted and banned. This can be an inconvenience to anyone if they are flagged and then unable to access certain websites.
It can happen to a home user if they try to open too many Facebook accounts for instance. Facebook actively searches for fake accounts and took down around 1.3 billion in 2021. If your activity seems suspicious then your IP may be flagged.
As already mentioned, web scraping in itself is generally legal, but many businesses have tried to challenge this. Earlier this year LinkedIn lost another appeal against hiQ Labs who were accused of scraping data from users.
It seems that if data is available free to the public then there can be no crime in using scraping software to collect it. But, if spotted then you will be blacklisted no doubt.
How can you avoid getting blacklisted when web scraping?
To remain undetected you will first need to mask your genuine IP address somehow. Anonymity is the key to avoiding being blacklisted. To this end, you have some tools and options at your disposal. VPNs and proxy providers are the common choices for web scrapers.
Choosing the right search engine can protect your data. For example, DuckDuckGo doesn’t record IP addresses, but many users prefer to add more protection by using a VPN.
A good VPN will provide a higher level of safety when visiting websites, and they are used quite commonly by home users. More than 20% of internet users have installed and use a VPN when browsing.
VPNs provide encryption and mask the IP address of the user. They can also be used to switch regions, and therefore make the user appear to be in another location.
A proxy will also hide the user’s IP but instead of scrambling or encrypting it, a new IP will be assigned. How effective this IP address depends on what type of proxy is used.
Proxies tend to be faster than VPNs because data is not encrypted, but they can be harder to detect.
Another tool often used in conjunction with proxies or VPNs is a headless browser. This is a browser with no GUI and can be used to funnel data from one webpage to another program.
What is the best choice for scraping data?
VPNs are limited when it comes to large scraping projects. They are slower than proxies and they are not designed for web scraping. Also, many websites can identify that a VPN is being used. Therefore, hiding an IP isn’t enough not to be flagged.
Proxies offer a faster and more reliable way to scrape data, but some are more reliable than others.
Datacenter proxies are the most likely type to be flagged and blacklisted. When you use a data center proxy you will be assigned an IP. These IPs are generated and not genuine and herein lies the risk.
This type of proxy actually uses genuine IP addresses that are supplied by mobile network providers. If you route your requests through a mobile proxy it will appear that you are using a mobile device on a genuine network. These are hard to spot, and websites don’t like blocking them in case they are genuine users.
Like mobile proxies, residential versions use real IP addresses. These are provided by ISPs and genuine devices are used to route traffic. Just like mobile proxies, websites are wary of banning activity from these IPs lest they be blocking genuine consumers.
Mobile and residential proxies make the best choice for web scraping. But, rotating proxies should be used for data extraction to avoid any blacklisting.
What makes rotating proxies the best choice for data scraping?
When you use a proxy you will be routing your data through an intermediary, or a gateway if you prefer. This will give you a new IP address assigned by your provider. If this IP address is associated with scraping or suspicious behavior it will get blocked.
If you use rotating proxies you can avoid this problem. Every time you send a request, a different IP will be assigned if you use rotating proxies. You can have a proxy pool and your IP will be assigned at random automatically.
If you use residential or mobile proxies with rotating IP addresses then you are unlikely to ever be blocked, and your web scraping project will work successfully. Even if an IP is banned, you simply switch to another.
Are rotating proxies completely undetectable?
Due to how rotating proxies work they should be almost completely undetectable for scraping activities. That isn’t to say that websites aren’t trying to find ways to stop data scraping through proxies.
Facebook and Meta have an External Data Misuse team of around 100 people to identify web scrapers and block them. However, because IPs are changed constantly in rotating proxies, security measures such as HTTPS request limits are never triggered.
Because the IP addresses are genuine, and traffic is routed through residential ISPs and real devices, they can’t be spotted.
Data scraping remains a highly valuable business tool in 2022, and the industry only appears to be growing. As long as the practice is carried out ethically there should be no legal ramifications.
However, business operators will have measures in place to spot web scrapers and will do their best to ban IPs related to the activity. Rotating proxies are the best way to avoid being blacklisted when data scraping.
You may be interested in: Difference between web scraping and API