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Supreme Court revives LinkedIn case to protect user data from web scrapers

The case could have broad ramifications for internet researchers and archivists.

The Supreme Court has given LinkedIn another chance to stop a rival company from scraping personal information from users’ public profiles, a practice LinkedIn says should be illegal but one that could have broad ramifications for internet researchers and archivists.

LinkedIn lost its case against Hiq Labs in 2019 after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the CFAA does not prohibit a company from scraping data that is publicly accessible on the internet.

The Microsoft-owned social network argued that the mass scraping of its users’ profiles was in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, which prohibits accessing a computer without authorization.

Hiq Labs, which uses public data to analyze employee attrition, argued at the time that a ruling in LinkedIn’s favor “could profoundly impact open access to the Internet, a result that Congress could not have intended when it enacted the CFAA over three decades ago.” (Hiq Labs has also been sued by Facebook, which it claims scraped public data across Facebook and Instagram, but also Amazon Twitter, and YouTube.)

The Supreme Court said it would not take on the case, but instead ordered the appeal’s court to hear the case again in light of its recent ruling, which found that a person cannot violate the CFAA if they improperly access data on a computer they have permission to use.

The CFAA was once dubbed the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who have long argued that its outdated and vague language failed to keep up with the pace of the modern internet.

Journalists and archivists have long scraped public data as a way to save and archive copies of old or defunct websites before they shut down. But other cases of web scraping have sparked anger and concerns over privacy and civil liberties. In 2019, a security researcher scraped millions of Venmo transactions, which the company does not make private by default. Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition startup, claimed it scraped over 3 billion profile photos from social networks without their permission.

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