The World Wide Web is a treasure trove of information. As individuals, we search for information on the web. This is web scraping in its raw form. However, companies and businesses sometimes require searching the web for information on a much larger scale.
What is web scraping?
The web has lots of useful information on a wide variety of subjects. A lot of this information is helpful for businesses. For example, they may want to know what their competitors are doing and their pricing. They may want to expand their markets. Information is of strategic importance for a business.
To gather information and store it in a format that can be used by the person searching for the data is called web scraping. Rather than manually searching and retrieving, scraping is an automated process that uses crawlers and scrapers. A crawler is an automated script that searches the web for the required information. The scraper extracts the data from a website and stores it in a useful format.
There are questions about the legality of web scraping. Is it legal to scrape the web? The answer is a bit dicey.
Since the web has pages of information that anyone can see, the data is free to use by anybody. However, how you use that information determines whether the scraping is legal or illegal. If you are using the information and attributing the source, it is legal. However, if you misuse the information, it is unlawful. For example, web scraping to index search engine pages for price comparison purposes or for gauging social media sentiment is legal. However, web scraping to hijack accounts, steal intellectual property, commit online fraud, or conduct denial of services is illegal. There is a thin line between what is legal and illegal when it comes to web scraping. This is the reason why web scraping faces many challenges.
Main challenges in web scraping
Engaging in web scraping is not without its challenges, especially when accessing content available on the internet.
1. No access to scrapers. Some websites do not allow crawlers and scrapers to get information from their sites. You could ask the owner of the website for permission to scrape. But there is not much you can do if the owner does not give permission.
2. Website changes. Websites are mainly built using Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Besides this, the structure of a website may also change over time. This is another challenge for web scrapers.
A unique web scraper has to be built for each website. And when the structure of the website changes, the scraper also has to be modified to conform to the new website format.
3. Blocking of IP addresses. Since data on websites is dynamic and keeps changing regularly, a scraper may have to access a webscapite very often. Some websites that do not like web scraping can detect repeated requests from an IP address that tries to access the site often.
They may then block any access requests from such an IP address. They could ban or block an IP address from accessing their site if it sends too many access requests. To prevent frequent access to their website, some websites use Captchas or similar means to deter bots from accessing information.
4. Geo-blocking. Some sites block IP addresses from specific geographic locations. For example, users in India may not be able to access content from particular sites in the US. Another example would be users in Germany may get different prices for the same product if they try to access a US site. These are forms of geo-blocking.
These are some of the challenges that web scrapers face.
One of the methods used by many web scraping users is to use a proxy. When using a proxy server, your IP address is hidden, so a website does not know where the request is coming from.
To overcome geo-blocking of German sites, for example, you could use a Germany proxy to show that the request is coming from a German user. So, an Indian user using a Germany proxy could unlock German content that may be geo-restricted to users in India.
Another method some web scrapers use to overcome this challenge is to use rotated IP switching with a proxy. This makes it so that each request to a website seems to come from a different IP address. This is to prevent IP blocking or banning.
Web scraping is of strategic importance to businesses for many reasons. Web bots are used to implement and automate web scraping.
These web bots have two components: a web crawler and a web scraper. Web scrapers face many challenges as certain websites try to block any attempts at scraping. But some users employ proxies to circumvent these challenges.
Posted 8 months ago by Gramvio