Posts Tagged ‘Webtrends’

Social Scraping

Monday, October 18th, 2010

What are the ethical boundaries?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal got our attention. The article is titled “Scrapers Dig Deep for Data on the Web”.

This article begins by talking about a “break-in” at a web site called PatientsLikeMe in May of this year. A new member was using sophisticated software to scrape or copy information from private online forums. PatientsLikeMe was eventually able to identify and block the intruder. The company did inform its members of the break-in.

It’s a fact of life that there are companies out there actively scraping data from social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Scraped or not, there is a lot of valuable information on social networking sites companies want and will actively seek. The question is should there be limits placed on what information is available for companies to collect or analyze. There are certainly ethical and legal challenges that need to be addressed.

For the ethical and savvy marketers, information from social networking sites can provide a wealth of customer insight. Social networking sites also have become an extension of customer service and support. Some companies have staff monitoring the sites and in some cases are responding to service problems through social media sites. The use of social networking sites and the information from these sites will only increase over time. According to the Winterberry Group, spending on data from online sources will more than double to $840 million in 2012 from spending of $410 million in 2009.

Users of social networking sites expect marketers will gather and use their data. A survey conducted by Webtrends indicates half those surveyed who use Twitter expect brands to use their information. However half also indicated they would leave social networking sites if they became too commercial.

So how do we ensure collecting this information remains within ethical bounds?

The answer may rest with the social sites and the collectors of this information. For example, Facebook is putting a strong effort into data security. It is important for them to lead the way to taking this issue seriously. Nielsen says it no longer scrapes data from sites requiring individual account access unless it has permission. These are examples on both sides of the issue.

Social network scraping can remain within reasonable bounds that protect information that needs to remain confidential. However, it will take the social networking industry leaders to invest in data security and markers to abide by ethical practices. This is yet another stage in the evolution of the digital world. And, unfortunately, there will always be some individuals and companies that attempt to reach beyond the areas of reasonable ethical behavior. It is up to all of us in the digital world to call their actions into question to protect this valuable world of information.

So how are you making use of social networks in managing your business in the digital world?