A recent decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a dispute between LinkedIn and hiQ Labs has spotlighted the thorny legal issues involved in unauthorized web scraping of data from public websites. While some may interpret the LinkedIn decision as greenlighting such activity, this would be a mistake. On close review of the decision, and in light of other decisions that have held unauthorized web scrapers liable, the conduct remains vulnerable to legal challenge.
hiQ and LinkedIn
Founded in 2012, hiQ is a data analytics company that uses automated bots to scrape information from LinkedIn’s website. hiQ targets the information that users have made public for all to see in their LinkedIn profile. hiQ pays nothing to LinkedIn for the data, which it uses, along with its own predictive algorithm, to yield “people analytics,” which it then sells to clients.
In May 2017, LinkedIn sent a cease-and-desist letter to hiQ demanding that it stop accessing and copying data from LinkedIn’s servers. LinkedIn also implemented technical measures to prevent hiQ from accessing the site, which hiQ circumvented.
Shortly thereafter, with its entire business model under threat, hiQ filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking injunctive relief and a declaration that LinkedIn had no right to prevent it from accessing public LinkedIn member profiles.