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What is Content Scraping?

by Iwan Price-Evans on Security • April 20, 2022

Scrapers are bots or software applications, that crawl the internet looking for and collecting specific information, referred to as 'scraping'. Content scraping is when a bot finds and downloads web content for use by the controller of the bot. 

The use of scrapers is a gray area because while they can be used legitimately, they can also be used to plagiarize web content or steal data. Scraping can be used to collect and display relevant information to web visitors or customers on other websites. It can also be used to collect publicly available data such as email addresses. Hackers can use them to collect login information or credit card details from unprotected sources.

Content scraping is often used maliciously to find content for editing and reuse. Companies that own intellectual property (IP) in the form of valuable web content are at risk of having this content scraped. For example, many sites have paid content behind a login, and scraper bots can be combined with credential stuffer bots to login to a protected area and then scrape the content. 

How does content scraping work?

Scraping can be performed by specially written software or by using popular automation software. 

Many applications that are used for testing software can also be used for content scraping. Automated testing software allows scripts to be built for scraping content. These scripts enable the bot to perform a wide range of actions for example:
  • visit a webpage
  • identify specific page elements or content
  • complete and submit forms
  • download the results, including screenshots of the web page at each stage of the script execution. 

These freely available testing applications make content scraping accessible to anyone who has basic scripting skills. Common examples of automated testing software include Selenium, Appium, and Sauce Labs.

How is content scraping used?

Companies that want to keep up to date with their competitors may use content scrapers to identify competitor product prices by crawling their sites and collecting price data. Other organizations may want to obtain free web content to publish on their own websites or applications.

Some examples of scraper use:

  • A website owner may collect content and republish it to increase the volume of pages on their site.
  • The website owner may do the same thing to keep their website content up to date, automatically ensuring that their content appears to refresh regularly.
  • They may also collect content and automatically modify it using language processing and republish it as their own.

Legitimate content scraping

There are some instances where content scraping is legitimately useful, for instance, testing that an application is functioning correctly. Content scraping is also used by search engines to analyze web page content and determine where it should rank in the search indexes.