Meta is suing two parties for mass scraping of Instagram profiles

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Meta is suing a Turkish man for ‘scraping’ about 350,000 Instagram profiles. He allegedly published the information publicly on a cloned website. In addition, Meta is also taking a scraping service, Octopus, to court.

The two parties are being sued by Meta for allegedly infringing the terms of use of Facebook and Instagram, so states the company. With scraping, an ‘attacker’ uses an automated way, in practice a bot, to extract data from a website en masse. In principle, this is not illegal, although according to Meta, the accused individual and the American company went further than just collecting public data.

In the case of the individual, this would have to do with publishing the captured data. The man is said to have copied information from 350,000 Instagram profiles by scraping. Subsequently, this information would have been made public on a clone website. Meta therefore also does not claim that scraping is an illegal form of hacking, or that the practice is inherently illegal. Instead, Meta invokes social media terms of use and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

This reproach also applies to Octopus. The American subsidiary of a Chinese party would sell scraping as a service for a fee. According to the prosecutor, customers must share their login details, so that the scraping bots can see data that is otherwise not public. Meta wants the lawsuit to force the company to stop offering the service.

Scrapingbots can copy all data with an access account
that a normal user would also see. Image via Instagram

Meta writes: “We believe that Octopus has violated our terms of use and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by making unauthorized and automated [Facebook en Instagram] to scrape. They have also tried to disguise this practice so as not to be blocked by Facebook and Instagram.”

Octopus offers its service to a diverse selection of targets, including Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Yelp, Google, Target, Walmart, Indeed, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, according to Meta.

Usually, the terms of use of websites explicitly state whether scraping of data is allowed or not. In principle, the automated collection of public data is not illegal, but it regularly happens that illegal acts are subsequently carried out with regard to the data obtained. In addition, Meta suggests that the two charges do not concern public data, but rather shielded data that is only accessible to users with an account.

Instagram therefore prohibits scraping and sharing of data obtained in this way: “You must not attempt to create accounts or collect or access information through unauthorized means. (…) You cannot sell an account or data, license or purchase obtained from us or through our service. (…) You may not post anyone’s private information or confidential information without permission, and you may not do anything that violates anyone’s rights, including intellectual property rights.” Facebook has similar terms of use.

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