Instagram Sues Analytics Company Social Data Trading Over Alleged Scraping

The Hong Kong-based company Social Data Trading allegedly scraped data from Instagram and used the information for a paid analytics service, Instagram parent company Meta claims in a new lawsuit.

Social Data Trading “offered its customers information scraped from Instagram users’ profiles, such as verified badge status, follower count, post count, number of likes, and number of comments, as well as information about certain users’ followers,” Meta asserts in a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The complaint alleges that between September 2020 and September 2021, Social Data Trading used “thousands” of bot accounts to scrape data.

Meta claims that Social Data Trading violated Instagram's terms of service, and also violated a California state law dealing with unauthorized access to computers.

Meta adds that it sent a cease and desist letter to the Social Data Trading, and that one of the principals, Adhar Singh, responded in a May 21 letter that the company had a right to access the information.

In that letter, which Facebook attached to the complaint, Singh said Social Data Trading's service was “fully compliant with the relevant legislation” and only drew on publicly available information.

Singh added: “Accessing and analysing publicly available information is a fundamental right, whether done by hand on paper or through the assistance of technology.”

Singh also referenced hiQ's victory in a battle with LinkedIn over scraping.

A trial judge in that matter ordered LinkedIn to allow hiQ to scrape users' publicly available data, and an appellate court upheld that order in 2019, ruling that the scraping probably didn't violate the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act -- which prohibits anyone from accessing computer servers without authorization. (The 9th Circuit is currently taking a new look at that case, in light of a separate Supreme Court ruling involving the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.)

Facebook has been involved in a separate battle over alleged scraping with analytics company BrandTotal. That matter is still pending.

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