With “the market for personal data about internet users” said to be “booming,” it now appears that — whether you call it creeping or label it stalking — serially selling data collected en-masse from social networking sites is now a perfectly viable (and ‘legal’) career option. An albeit abrasive-sounding career path that pundits are now calling“scraping.”
Operating in what has been called a “contradictory” “legal gray area,” these scrapers (the net’s newest cyber-cowboys) have taken to data-mining the social networks that, they say, “are becoming the new public records.”
The rapidly growing “cat and mouse game” between websites protecting their info and “scrapers” trying to get it has given rise to an atmosphere of “fierce” competition, just as it’s created a host of new business models and market niches. These range from “listening services,” which provide companies product feedback by monitoring “in real time hundreds of thousands of news sources,” to “date checks,” and corporations which match people’s real-names to their online pseudonyms.
The Wallstreet Journal gives the example of “Another job: attempting to scrape Facebook for a multi-level marketing company that wanted email addresses of users who “like” the firm’s page—as well as their friends—so they all could be pitched products. ”
The more probing question isn’t so much whether this new industry will take hold (it already has), but how it will play out? That is, what, specifically will come to be the ‘acceptable practices’ of it? Can we come to one day expect a 400-level college course called “Facebook Stalking Ethics?”
But, it seems, there is an escape route. As the WSJ continues in its report, “California has a special protection for public officials, including politicians, sheriffs and district attorneys. It makes it easier for them to remove their home address and phone numbers from these databases, by filling out a special form stating they fear for their safety.”
Which, I think, could, eventually, bring about another question entirely: How long before we all start ‘fearing for our safety’; and won’t fear, as it often does, completely crash this newly booming sector of our recovering economy?
Especially, that is, when considering that it’s said to be a “full-time job” just combatting scraping. And to be sure there’s a lot of scrapers out there already…