On September 9th, 2019 the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS 1 (District 9, California) has affirmed the former district court’s determination that a certain [data] analytic company is lawful to scrape [perform automated gathering] LinkedIn’s public profiles info. Now the historical event has happened in which a court is protecting a data extractor’s right for mass gathering openly presented business directory information.

Jump to court’s conclusions

Some history

HiQ Labs is a data analytics company. Using automated bots, it scrapes information that LinkedIn users have included on public LinkedIn profiles [not only of LinkedIn]. hiQ then makes use of that info, using a predictive algorithm (AI), to generate HR analytics for its business clients.

In 2017 hiQ filed a lawsuit against LinkedIn and its complaint of hiQ’s alleged violation of LinkedIn’s User Agreement. The US district court gave the hiQ motion a positive decision.

The district court ordered LinkedIn to withdraw its former cease-and-desist letter, to remove any existing technical barriers to hiQ’s access to public profiles, and to refrain from putting in place any legal or technical measures with the effect of blocking hiQ’s access to public profiles.

LinkedIn then appealed it. Now the COURT OF APPEALS  had to make clear if scraping activity that is obviously against LinkedIn’s User Agreement is legal or not.

Some objectives

  1. HIQ LABS only collects information from public LinkedIn profiles. By definition, any member of the public has the right to access this information.
  2. LinkedIn considered hiQ’s non-authorized scraping activity [against LinkedIn’s user’s profiles] as a violation of CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, US 1984, wiki).
  3. HiQ’s business depends on accessing, analyzing, and communicating information derived from public LinkedIn profiles.

Court’s conclusions

First: The COURT OF APPEALS judged that the scrape [automated bot visiting for the purpose of retrieving information] of public accessible website data is not in violation with CFAA2.

Second, the court has also forbidden3, namely “affirmed preliminary injunction”, LinkedIn to deny (ban/prevent/block) HiQ’s activity of scraping LinkedIn’s public info4.

More

The Court has stated that “Linkedin’s private business interests… “enforcing its User Agreements’ prohibitions on automated scraping” — are relatively weak.”

Besides, the court has mentioned that “LinkedIn has itself developed a data analytics tool (Talent Insights) similar to hiQ’s products, undermining LinkedIn’s claim that it has its members’ [service users] privacy interests in mind.”

This courts’ preliminary injunction does not prevent LinkedIn from protecting its data against bad actors. It still can apply any anti-scrape measures to stop harmful fraud or attacks on its servers.

Load the full court letter.

Conclusion

We have the very striking precedent of a scraping company asserting its right in the US Court of Appeals for the non-obstructive [automated] gathering of business aggregators’ public info. Happy are many scrapers now, I believe.

Consider another story where US district court ruled that moderate scraping, even when against ToS, is legal.

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Notes
(1) The United States courts of appeals are considered among the most powerful and influential courts in the United States. Because of their ability to set legal precedent in regions that cover millions of Americans, the United States courts of appeals have strong policy influence on U.S. law (wiki).
(2) So, simply speaking, if a bot scrapes openly accessible info, including those of data aggregators, it’s not against the US legislation. At least there is that precedent.
(3) “forbidding the professional networking website LinkedIn Corp. from denying plaintiff hiQ, a data analytics company, access to publicly available LinkedIn member profiles”.
(4) So that LinkedIn would not “tortuously interfere with hiQ’s contracts with third parties” to whom HiQ provides data analysis.