Scraping LinkedIn in 2021: Is it Legal?

Jeremiah Tang
5 min readJun 16, 2021

LinkedIn’s latest legal battle is charting new ground for millions of businesses that rely on web-scraping for lead generation and customer analytics. What does this latest development mean for you and your business?

Photo by inlytics | LinkedIn Analytics Tool on Unsplash

Introduction

Web scraping is essentially extracting data from certain platforms for further processing and transformation into useful outputs. While data scraping may be a sensitive topic in terms of data privacy and its legality, I will provide a breakdown as well as conclusions of a prominent LinkedIn scraping lawsuit as follows.

Web Scraping Lawsuit: LinkedIn VS HiQ

In May 2017, LinkedIn sent hiQ, a web scraping company, a cease-and-desist letter where it asserted that hiQ was in violation of LinkedIn’s User Agreement. The letter demanded that hiQ stop accessing and copying data from LinkedIn’s server, stating that any future access by hiQ would be violating state and federal law, including the the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”).

In response, hiQ demanded that LinkedIn recognise hiQ’s right to access public pages on LinkedIn and sought a declaratory judgment, a conclusive decision by the court, that LinkedIn could not invoke, among other laws, the CFAA and DMCA against it. hiQ also requested a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn, seeking to prevent LinkedIn from acting on its cease-and-desist letter. The district court granted the preliminary injunction, ordering LinkedIn to withdraw the letter, remove technical barriers to hiQ’s access to public profiles, and refrain from implementing legal or technical measures to block hiQ’s access to public profiles until a ruling has been made.

LinkedIn appealed this decision to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2019, the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction.

Since that decision, LinkedIn has further appealed that decision to the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS), but it is unclear whether the court has agreed to hear the appeal. Until a judgment is released by SCOTUS, however, the decision by the 9th Circuit remains good law.

A golden ticket?

While observers have hailed the 9th Circuit decision as being a golden ticket permitting all types of web scraping, the issue is far more nuanced than that. In fact, the scope of the issue is extremely narrow, turning on the definition of “without authorization”. In hiQ’s own words, the question before SCOTUS is:

QUESTION PRESENTED: Whether a professional networking website may rely on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’s prohibition on “intentionally access[ing] a computer without authorization” to prevent a competitor from accessing information that the website’s users have shared on their public profiles and that is available for viewing by anyone with a web browser.

  • Counsel for hiQ in its brief to SCOTUS

The narrowness of the issue presented to SCOTUS by LinkedIn means that the court only has to decide on this one matter, and will not have to consider other potential issues arising from web scraping such as data privacy concerns, breach of contractual terms, or even violations of other state and federal laws. Optimistically, it can be inferred that because LinkedIn decided to pursue the case on this ground instead of through other causes of action, they are less likely to be potential issues for web scrapers. But the reality is that due to web scraping being a relatively new phenomenon, the law surrounding it remains underdeveloped and there is little legal clarity in the area.

The future of web scraping

While there is still a grey area regarding the legality of web scraping, we can say for certain that web scraping in itself remains legal. This is big news for both individuals and companies alike. With the large amount of data presented online, there is a tumultuous amount of information available that is difficult to obtain any useful insights from on its own. Thankfully, there are many web scrapers made available that are able to tidy up the necessary data and eliminate any white noises. Scraping popular platforms such as Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and especially LinkedIn can be extremely beneficial to companies, detailed in this article.

Web scraping and its use cases

For individuals

The average Joe interested in exploring web scraping can probably get by with free web scraping APIs that can obtain small amounts of data. Some side projects to consider if you are interested in picking up web scraping would be scraping food review websites such as Yelp or Burpple and find the best fried chicken in your country or by scraping social media platforms such as Reddit and Twitter and conduct the necessary analysis to decide your next investment in the stock market.

With large-scale projects that require data of millions of individuals, it is definitely not feasible to rely on these free but slow web scraping APIs and wait weeks, if not months, for the data to be collected (if your computer does not overheat and crash by then).

For companies

Apart from food review sites and social media platforms, LinkedIn seems to be the most relevant platform to scrape from for B2B companies. Depending on the magnitude of data you require, there are many paid LinkedIn scraping services that satisfy different needs. A comprehensive list of the top 5 varying LinkedIn scraping services can be found here. This provides a better understanding of what these different companies offer and find the service best suited to your companies’ needs.

With data provided by the scraping services, businesses are able to use it for many functions:

  1. Updating its current database: Enrich current database with up-to-date data
  2. Leads Generation for B2B sales: LinkedIn URL/email discovery
  3. Research: Use company data to predict market and industry trends
  4. Human Resource: Improves hiring for ATS and recruitment platforms
  5. Investment (Venture Capitalists): Chart out company performances and decide which companies are performing well
  6. Alumni (Universities): Find out distribution of their alumni based on location, industry or companies with further transformation of data

Moving forward with Mantheos

Here at Mantheos we conduct LinkedIn scraping legally, scraping data that is freely and publicly available on LinkedIn. This means that we collect data that is accessible to the general public. Compared to manually searching LinkedIn for people and company profiles, we automate this process for you and aggregate this information into readable files such as excel and json. By engaging our services, you can rest assured that we will provide data that is both safe as well as useful in your business.

Conclusion

Until the legality of web scraping becomes clearer, we can safely say that many forms of web scraping are not deemed illegal by the courts and are permissible. Web scraping is an integral part of the big data revolution and is empowering millions of businesses around the world to optimise their business strategies. With web scraping becoming ever more ubiquitous, the myriad of privacy and contractual issues surrounding web scraping is growing more complex. This forms a potential stumbling block for both web scraping companies and end users.

As laws become more rigid and penalties for violations increase, it is now more important than ever before to ensure that your business is not exposed to unnecessary legal risk by unknowingly flouting data laws. Mantheos prides itself on ensuring that its business practices are fully compliant with all laws and regulations, regardless of jurisdiction. Yada yada.

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Jeremiah Tang

Passionate about data science, empowering data-drive organisations one row at a time.