Doing Academic Research: 3 Best Proxies For Ethical Web Scraping

by Dan Goodin
Blog 01 Mar 2022

If you need data for your academic purposes and are going to resort to web scraping, chances are that you will also need proxies in that regard. Yet how do you choose and manage one? A proxy generator that you will ultimately opt for plays a major role in the quality of your web scraping. Thus, prior to any decision, you are to factor in several things. That is why we are writing this article for you to get started correctly and effectively. 

What Is a Proxy and Why Do You Need It for Web Scraping?

In brief, a proxy server is an intermediary between your web scraping instrument and the sites that it is scraping. Whenever you send an HTTP request to a website, it will first go to a proxy that will afterward, using altered credentials, pass it on to the targeted site. This website will have no idea that it is you or your proxy server that has addressed the request. Instead, the targeted site will see a normal HTTP request. 

The premise for needing such an intermediary lies in avoiding being blacklisted. In fact, we can highlight the following benefits of using proxies for your academic data collecting: 

Hiding a Scraper’s IP address

The most important thing about a proxy is that it hides away your real IP address. And instead, it provides a fake IP that is required for successful web scraping. In other words, it is a sort of a mask for your computer’s IP with proxies’ credentials. This way, it ensures anonymity during any online activities. 

IP Blocking Prevention

If your computer exceeds any of the website’s limitations, you will not get blocked, your proxy’s IP will get blocked instead. Of course, such scenarios are undesired but they can be fixed by transitioning to another proxy server. 

Bypassing set limits

As a rule, most websites apply software products to confine the number of requests that can be sent by a user in a particular time frame. If a website detects the exceeding number of requests from the same IP address, it considers it to be a bot-like behavior. As a result, the website automatically bans that IP. 

To be more precise, when it comes to banning, the thing is not with the number of requests per a single IP address. The website rather takes into account the requests’ repeatability within a short period of time, and how those requests were being sent.

Proxy is the instrument that will help you circumvent this limitation. To make the targeted website see that all the requests are coming from various users, a proxy server will distribute them all among multiple proxies. Such a spreading out will not send any alarm signals to the site’s rate-restricting software.

In general, using a proxy server could help you with faster load times and better security. Thus, we do recommend considering their employment. 

Types of Proxies for Academic Research

Dedicated, shared, or public proxies? 

Among dedicated, public, and shared proxies, the best choice in the context of academic research is dedicated proxy servers. This way, you will have it all for yourself: servers, IPs, and the bandwidth. 

On the downside, using shared proxies enables utilizing all the resources simultaneously with other customers. Although a shared proxy is cheaper than a dedicated one, its drawback is the risk of getting blocked. It is due to the probability of other users being scraping the same targeted site that may result in going over the rate restriction. That is why dedicated proxies can be considered the best option.  

Having stated the best choice, we also need to define the worst one here. Open or public proxies can be characterized as such in terms of collecting data for academic research purposes. Even though public proxies are free and can be used by anyone, they often are utilized with controversial intentions. Besides being the most insecure proxy option of all, it provides the lowest quality possible. Imagine thousands of customers from all across the globe linking to the same proxy server at once! The result might be too obvious: low speed and a little bit of data scraped ultimately. 

However, for web scraping, you should also be aware of diverse kinds of proxy IPs to consider your options. There are three of them:

Datacenter Proxies

This is the most common IP type and, hence, most web scraping companies utilize it. These IP addresses are supported by datacenter servers instead of ISPs (Internet Service Provider). 

Residential Proxies

These IPs are appointed to residential households by ISPs. Compared to a datacenter proxy, residential IPs are way more complicated to obtain and, thus, are much more expensive. Nevertheless, they deliver almost the same results of crawling activities as more practical and cheaper datacenter proxies do.  

Mobile IPs

As the title implies, these are the IP addresses of mobile devices and are supported by mobile network suppliers. They, too, are rather expensive. Besides, some privacy concerns may come into play here. As you cannot be sure that mobile devices owners know that you use their GSM networks. 

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Speaking about using proxies in the context of web scraping, there are many gray areas. We all know that some people can use them for ambivalent reasons and dubious activities. And yet, it does not make the use of proxies illegal altogether. What matters indeed is what you do when connecting to a proxy server. 

Collecting and analyzing data tools are widely used in a plethora of scopes and industries, from academic research to various businesses. 

However, there is one thing that we have to mention here as a precaution for you. In particular, it concerns EU proxies. 

A lot has changed since the integration of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). With it, the type of IP addresses you choose can cause you trouble despite how you use them. It is even more so with mobile IPs and residential IP addresses coming from European countries. 

GDPR norms claim that the owners of these IPs are to provide accurate permission to use their IP addresses. If it is you who owns the residential IPs, no problem then. Just mind those rules when a third-party supplier is involved.  

In such a case, make sure that the outside provider does have a clear and accurately stated consent of the residential IP owners. 

The most secure route is to employ datacenter IPs. This way, you will not have any privacy issues. 

Ethical Web Scraping Practices

Web scraping is legal. 

Take the case when you scrape your website for analytics for instance. 

Speaking about collecting data from other sites, though, what is crucial is to not cause any problems. Such troubles can be caused by sending too many requests at once as that might burden the targeted website. 

Websites themselves prevent such burdens by utilizing mechanisms to detect and block any bot behavior. 

On your part, it is a proxy server used for collecting data from other sites that could solve two problems at once. The first is avoiding burdening targeted websites by reallocating all the requests between several IP addresses. And the second is making your web scraping ethical. Just stick to the following: 

Act Reasonably

Mind managing the number of your requests to a target site. Remember that they should not feel invaded. Raising red flags is only possible if you overwhelm them with too many requests.

Do no harm

You need to be sure that the bots making web scraping for you do no harm to websites. The excessive load of their server caused by your bombardment with too many requests could cause damage.

Stay respectful

In some cases, websites may detect your scraping operations and contact your proxy supplier with an ask to slow down or even discontinue. If this happens to you, respect their ask and follow their request. 

Bottom Line

Nowadays, academic research is almost impossible without web scraping. It is also widely used in business to stay competitive. Lots of various organizations exploit data for tracing trends and developing strategies for the future. The information collected could also be used in real-time to monitor potential data misuse or other illegal operations.

In the modern world, information is one of the most valuable assets. Data, accessed by legitimate web scraping companies, can be used in crime or commerce. It could also help society integrate and become more united through a collective vision. 

All we have to do is be careful with how we obtain information and how we use it.

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