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Screen Scraping

What is Screen Scraping

In short, screen scraping is an automated process that will extract data from websites. The main difference between web indexing and screen scraping is that while web indexing will index the entire content of a web page, screen scraping targets specific information or data on the web page. The reason an automated process is used is due to the fact that not only is the process faster, thereby increasing the efficiency of the task, because the task utilizes pre-configured code (the code may also be modified for specific tasks), the process, overall, has a lower risk of errors manifesting in the extraction of the data. The specific mechanism of how a screen scraper works is by using parsing to parse a website (i.e., most commonly used for websites which use either HTML or XHTML), the data is categorized into a dataset and then stored (Dongo et al., 2020). The purpose of screen scraping is to take information from one source to add it to another source, for one. Second, screen scraping is a beneficial process for archiving and tracking data, as well as changes in the data (Library Carpentry, n.d.).

Ethics/Legalities of Screen Scraping

There are some ethical and legal considerations to keep in mind with screen scraping. The ethical aspects are centered around how data is accessed and used through screen scraping. In addition, legalities are also connected to the way that data is scraped, or otherwise accessed and the purpose behind how the data will be used. The legal aspect of screen scraping involves the illegal access of and use of data. Screen scraping of public data is perfectly legal.

If screen scraping is used for accessing and extracting data from intellectual property, proprietary and confidential data (i.e., trade secrets) from sensitive domains, personal data, or data protected by international regulations, this would constitute as illegal, however. Other illegal access and use associated with screen scraping include violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), or deliberate or non-deliberate trespassing of digital domains (GeeksforGeeks, 2023). This is especially the case if one brute forces, or breaches secured domains, though this is not necessary for illegal use. The mere access, extraction and use of non-public data through screen scraping is illegal (Krotov et al., 2020). As mentioned, ethics are tied to the legal discourse associated with screen scraping. An additional and important ethical consideration to be made when deciding to use screen scraping tools is that websites that rely on advertising monetization are negatively affected. The reason for this is because a screen scraper tool’s interaction with advertisements on a website do not count as a human view, and as such, no advertisement revenue is generated (Persson, n.d.).

In short, it is not ethical to use private data for either archiving, or publication in the public domain, where this information will lead to the violation of individuals’ or entities’ personal or sensitive information, respectively, firstly. Secondly, copyrighted data could be used for malicious means insofar as for profiting on (Krotov et al., 2020).

Pros and Cons of Screen Scraping

The Advantages to using screen scraping include, most notably, the automated extraction and transformation of data that is added into structured datasets. This serves as a convenience and simplifies the process of gathering data. Cutting/pasting data is not only time consuming, but is cumbersome and is not a task easily completed for large datasets. Another ancillary supportive mechanism of using screen scraping is that errors are easily identified, which can then be fixed more quickly (Bauer, 2021).

Cons of screening scraping, on the other hand, largely manifest as the challenges that can arise in their use. As many websites have adopted methods such as Captcha or IP blocking to detect and ban bots (such as screen scrapers), this act alone can defeat the purpose of using a screen scraper. Furthermore, screen scraping can at times be slow to process for the reason that screen scraping software will often query numerous requests. Querying of numerous requests may cause the parser to incorrectly interrupt refreshing a website to continue the scraping process, resulting in an interruption of data collection (Techvice, 2021). Still, because screen scrapers make use of site-specific programming code, there is a need to manually update the scraper’s programming code if there are changes in the HTML code of the targeted website(s) (Dongo et al., 2020).

To Be or Not to Be… APIs or Screen Scraping

Screen Scraping Tools

When you are asking the question "What screen scraping tools are there?," or "What screen scraping tools should I use?," there are a few different tools and connected reasons why you want to use a specific tool. A brief explanation for the different screen scrapers will provide useful information for determining how, specifically, the tool might be used.

Three popular screen scraping tools include Apify, ScrapingBee, and Scrapingdog. Apify is capable of scraping data from websites and APIs, and it includes a scalable webcrawler. The webcrawler is particularly of significance, as it is capable of navigating to external links from a web page to extract the relevant data from those ancillary pages. ScrapingBee offers, aside from screen scraping abilities, no-code web scraping which can serve as highly useful to those who are unskilled with programming scraping tools. Lastly, Scrapingdog is supportive for businesses due to the streamlined ability to extract data that is valuable, or in other words, highly relevant to the purpose for scraping specific web pages, thus saving not only time, but resources (Codedesign, n.d.). An API, in essence, is a piece of software built by developers which has the purpose of interacting with a specific application or set of applications. The API interacts with the application through referencing a program library. APIs, therefore, are components of object-oriented programming languages. APIs provide a more comprehensive layer of gathering and storing data, then, as an API will enable the end-user to target and source specific data (Dongo et al., 2020). When choosing between a screen scraper or an API, the decision will depend on the specific data that is being targeted for sourcing and storage, as well as its purpose, in addition to convenience, marketing purposes (i.e., business use such as ecommerce), and also the level of skill has with programming an API.

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Bauer, P. C. (2021). In Computational social science: Theory & application. essay. Retrieved March 31, 2023, from
Codedesign. (n.d.). 10 best web scraping tools for data extraction (Jan 2023 list). Digital Marketing Agency. Retrieved March 31, 2023, from
Dongo, I., Cadinale, Y., Aguilera, A., Martínez, F., Quintero, Y., & Barrios, S. (2020). Web scraping versus Twitter API. Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Information Integration and Web-Based Applications & Services.
GeeksforGeeks. (2023, January 19). Web scraping - Legal or illegal? Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
Krotov, V., Johnson, L., & Silva, L. (2020). Tutorial: Legality and ethics of web scraping. Murray State University. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
Library Carpentry. (n.d.). Introduction to web scraping. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
Persson, E. (n.d.). Evaluating tools and techniques for web scraping. KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Retrieved March 31, 2023, from
Techvice. (2021, June 17). Web scraping challenges and how to deal with them. Retrieved March 31, 2023, from