LinkedIn asks Supreme Court to review whether data scraping is prohibited hacking

Social networking platform LinkedIn asked the Supreme Court to review whether the “scraping” of data from its website equates to illegal hacking under federal law, in light of the court’s recent ruling in a separate hacking case this month.

Data analytics company hiQ scraped LinkedIn, meaning hiQ used automated software tools to access and copy data from public profiles on LinkedIn.

The scraping practice violates LinkedIn’s rules, but lower federal courts have prevented LinkedIn from denying hiQ access to public profiles.

Now, Microsoft-owned LinkedIn wants the Supreme Court to determine whether data scraping that hiQ and others have conducted violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, which prohibits “unauthorized access, or exceeding authorized access, to a computer.”

“[T]he ability of Internet users to control their data and protect their privacy has never been more at risk, and the consequences of mass scraping of public-facing websites are extraordinarily harmful for the hundreds of millions of users of such websites,” attorneys for LinkedIn wrote in a brief filed on Monday.

Last week, the Supreme Court issued a nuanced ruling addressing the federal hacking law.

In a 6-3 opinion in Van Buren v. United States, the Supreme Court decided that a person is “exceeding authorized access” to a computer under federal law only when that person accesses information that is off-limits and not when they are conducting an unauthorized search of a database the person is legally able to access.

LinkedIn’s brief filed this week urges the Supreme Court to address the rest of the federal hacking law and define what “without authorized access” means under federal hacking law.

Any answer from the Supreme Court to LinkedIn’s brief could fundamentally change the data analytics industry and data privacy protections afforded to Americans.

Earlier this year, LinkedIn said an archive of users’ data was made available online. The archive contained data from allegedly more than 500 million LinkedIn accounts and was reportedly made available for sale on a hacker forum.

Other prominent tech platforms such as Facebook and the social-networking app Clubhouse have similarly seen large datasets of information that looks to have been scraped from their websites spilled online.

Federal lawmakers are considering different policy proposals intended to address data privacy concerns associated with data scraped from prominent social and tech platforms.

The Supreme Court is slated to review LinkedIn’s brief in conference later this week.

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