A Judge today ruled that an analytics company has the right to scrape data from LinkedIn (LI). HiQ, the data gatherer, has been processing publicly available data from LI and using it to train AI models, until May when LI demanded it stop.
Scraping is a data-gathering process that pulls relevant information from websites. LinkedIn, a Microsoft owned company, issued a formal letter asking HiQ to stop scraping the site because doing so violated its user agreement.
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The letter indicated that LI had taken technological steps to prevent HiQ from continued scraping, and that further attempts to circumvent such protections would be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
HiQ lawyered up; it caught the attention of Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law specialist who seldom takes on new cases. Jolt Digest, a Harvard legal site, says his involvement may be due to the case centering on a company scraping only publicly available data: HiQ never sought privately stored information.
The ruling today, which LI plans to appeal, sets the stage for what could turn out to be a free-speech argument. According to Reuters a LinkedIn spokesperson said:
We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling; this case is not over. We will continue to fight to protect our members’ ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn.
Since the data was made publicly available by the users posting it, LI was not able to prove ownership of it to a degree that gives it the right to block others from accessing it.
Anyone could, theoretically, click on every profile and use a pen and paper to copy all the info, and then feed the data into a computer. If they had enough time and manpower. Of course, this would be ridiculous and inefficient, which is why such tasks are done using an algorithm that gathers and sorts data.
The question that remains: is it okay to implement technological measures to stop robots from scraping your website for data?
Today’s ruling says that HiQ and its algorithms can scrape away and, according to the Judge’s order, LI has to let it:
To the extent LinkedIn has already put in place technology to prevent hiQ from accessing these public profiles, it is ordered to remove any such barriers.
It’s unclear whether the Judge spoke specifically about the role that AI played in gathering the data, but it is clear that the ruling allows the algorithm to continue doing its job, and LI can’t take steps to stop it.
Call it a win for the robots, as long as it’s legal to analyze data they’ll continue to have jobs.