The data mining business is booming

TakeAway: There’s a market for personal data created by internet users.  A big market.

Hoping to find out what people are saying about products or topics, companies are willing to pay data mining companies to scour the internet for online conversations or forum posts.

For the most part, it’s legal.

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Excerpted from Wall Street Journal, “’Scrapers’ Dig Deep for Data on Web,” by Julia Angwin and Steve Stecklow, October 12, 2010

… The market for personal data about Internet users is booming, and in the vanguard is the practice of “scraping.” Firms offer to harvest online conversations and collect personal details from social-networking sites, résumé sites and online forums where people might discuss their lives.

The emerging business of web scraping provides some of the raw material for a rapidly expanding data economy. Marketers spent $7.8 billion on online and offline data in 2009, according to the New York management consulting firm Winterberry Group LLC. Spending on data from online sources is set to more than double, to $840 million in 2012 from $410 million in 2009. …

Some companies collect personal information for detailed background reports on individuals, such as email addresses, cell numbers, photographs and posts on social-network sites.

Others offer what are known as listening services, which monitor in real time hundreds or thousands of news sources, blogs and websites to see what people are saying about specific products or topics.

Internet users often have little recourse if personally identifiable data is scraped: There is no national law requiring data companies to let people remove or change information about themselves, though some firms let users remove their profiles under certain circumstances.

Many scrapers and data brokers argue that if information is available online, it is fair game, no matter how personal.

Scrapers operate in a legal gray area. Internationally, anti-scraping laws vary. In the U.S., court rulings have been contradictory. …

Screen-scraper charges between $1,500 and $10,000 for most jobs. The company says it’s often hired to conduct “business intelligence,” working for companies who want to scrape competitors’ websites.

One recent assignment: … 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. …

Edit by DMG

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Full Article

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