X Corp (formerly Twitter) has cracked down on data scrapers in a series of lawsuits filed within the last several weeks. One lawsuit targets an Israel-based research firm that provides commercial data scraping, called Bright Data, for alleged unjust enrichment. Another targets The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a UK nonprofit known for scraping the platform to quantify the proliferation of hate speech, for breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations, inducing breach of contract, and civil violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). A third seeks judgement against four John Doe IP addresses, presumably private scrapers, for unjust enrichment.
According to the complaints, data scraping substantially interferes with the legitimate operation of the X platform. They further allege that data scraping violates user privacy and that the process of scraping taxes the site to the point of causing systemic effects. The complaint against the CCDH further alleges that the Center presented the data it had scraped in a false light as a part of a campaign of Internet censorship, that its activities violated an exclusive contract for sentiment analysis on X and that its reports have caused major advertisers to pause or terminate deals.
Data scraping has long been a method for researchers looking to deepen their understanding of a platform’s userbase. Scraping is generally an alternative to using an API call (using a feature provided by the platform and often monetized) by using bots to glean content from the website’s public-facing pages. Proponents for scrapping point to the need for watchdog oversight of social media platforms and the public nature of the data. While these lawsuits are indicative of CEO Elon Musk’s high-profile and controversial efforts to shake up the platform since acquiring it, including limiting the Posts that users can access daily and piloting paid memberships, X Corp is not the only social media company to take data scrapers to court in the past several months. Meta and LinkedIn have each been involved in suits against data scraping operations in the Northern District of California (See e.g. hiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corporation, 2022 WL 18399982 (N.D.Cal., 2022); Meta Platforms, Inc. v. Ates, 2023 WL 4035611 (N.D.Cal., 2023); Meta Platforms, Inc. v. BrandTotal Ltd., 605 F.Supp.3d 1218 (N.D.Cal., 2022)). Both Meta and LinkedIn have prevailed on substantive motions.