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Scraping emails for fun and profit.
Right? Darn Right? Morally Reprehensible?

 5:48 pm on Jan 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

I frequent an industry association. The people governing the association are doing some very bad stuff.

In response to this bad stuff, there's been some attempted coup attempts of the association's leadership. The last coup failed because the coup didn't have the ability to communicate to the membership - while the leadership can and did communicate with the membership. Of the members that were aware of the coup attempt, they overwhelming sided with the coup.

lemme give you an example. to be elected to the leadership, you have to be nominated by a nominating committee. The nomination committee is determined by existing leadership (any else smell that?). The nomination committee received a large volume of emails from membership telling them to nominate a candidate (the coup candidate). They were ignored.

So now the coup candidate wants to communicate to the membership by email for the next election - laying out the problems and suggesting people demand that he be on the list of candidates for leadership (then membership can vote him in or not).

The association maintains an online directory with email addresses (the ones the association uses). They also have a published policy that you can use the directory, but can't scrape it using automated means. So you can do it by hand (not feasible) but not scrape.

However someone has scraped it already and the association merely frowned on it and let is slide. They then followed with a ruling that folks can only send out two emails to the membership (but didn't remove the scraping clause).

The leader of the coup wants me to scrape the emails from the directory.

Do you scrape?



 5:59 pm on Jan 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Since your being so secretive about it, and not publishing your intent, it can't possibly come and bite you in the ass, can it?

That said, you know what you have to do.


 6:04 pm on Jan 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well it could bite back. I'm not a member of the association, but I'm reasonably well known in the community. And if we do this, it won't be a secret. (though I guess in retrospect I'm seen as a rebel/outlier/vocal in that community so perhaps I wouldn't be harming my already tarnished rep)

I actually am unsure. There's enough of a membership that some people will view the email as some variation on self serving spam. And I'm not a big fan of scraping someone's website when they've clearly said no. OTOH, they've implicitly allowed it in the past.

So no, I don't think it's quite that clear cut.

I've actually suggested they fire up the community and 50 of us scrape the directory by hand for a few hours. Or to try a viral email campaign.

(though I suppose if I scrape and the coup succeeds, hey! I'm in good! :) ).


 12:18 am on Jan 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

I frequent an industry association.

Depending on the country you are in and the nature of the association, you may find that there are legal avenues you could pursue.

Typically, any organisation that takes in money has some sort of legal status and there will be a set of rules that apply. The first thing I would do would be to find that set of rules and take it from there.

Of course, the rule book may not help - your experience is far from unique. For instance, splits in sports can often result from a similar scenario - I believe Darts is a prime example.



 12:56 am on Jan 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Actually Kaled, that's part of the problem. The association has done some stupid things and been sued successfully by members. Under the current leadership there's some concern that what the leadership is doing is not legal....but some folks are getting sick of suing the association and instead are trying to do the takeover.

Still not sure if that warrants breaking their TOS when it comes to scraping their website.

But in reading this thread, I'm starting to lean towards scrape be be darned. It's not illegal, and I'm starting to think it's not even wrong. Might even be the right thing to do.


 2:30 am on Jan 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

In my niche there was one group that had a large portion of their reason for being 'taken away' by a 3rd party. The equivalent of the 'coup' in the group was the operation sub-group that worked with what was taken away.

The operation sub-group formed a new group. Then the original group on hearing about the new group asked them to merge, after they realized they lost most of their members. A vote was held and the new group remained separate.

Several gray haired members of the original group that were unhappy with the vote's outcome (and the new group's organizers) 16 years later are still doing public and behind the scenes backbiting - proving not all children wear diapers!

The original group had done meta description header and white text spam on hundreds of pages on their own website in in the recent past as an attempt to divert traffic back to the original organization. I recently got them to remove that spam with the treat of a DMCA notice just before their busy season (web advance ticket sales).

I personally would help the coup group anonymously by emailing the list of emails to the coup group from a new fee email account and deny involvement to ANYONE that asks. Smile when the t**d of the original group floats downriver and out into the ocean to hopefully never be heard from again!


 12:22 pm on Jan 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Morally, if neither you nor the person to whom you plan to pass the information will benefit directly then breaking the rules seems ok to me. However...

Before you gather together this list of email addresses you should probably decide EXACTLY what you plan to do with it. For instance, will you destroy it after sending out a single email, or after a certain period of time, or simply remove entries on request. Since you are on shaky ground, being absolutely clear as to your exact purpose may be helpful.



 12:27 pm on Jan 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

If the info is publicly available, get it, as long as no server side protections are ignored. Nothing wrong with "cut and paste"... just get 50 people to help do it, or do it 50 times, which ever comes first. There's organization and then there's computer intrusion (scraping). IOW, a right way and a wrong way to do things.

(Based on the statement the info is available)


 12:50 pm on Jan 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

Assuming the 'pages of email addresses' aren't running much past double digits, manually cutting and pasting the pages and then bot-processing those pages wouldn't technically be "scraping it using automated means" - you copied that page manually, what you do afterwards is purely an internal matter. IMHO.


 1:18 pm on Jan 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

A classic philosophical question, more commonly phrased as something like: Do the ends justify the means?

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