While you were worried about net neutrality this summer, an artificial intelligence company named HiQ got itself tangled up in a legal battle with LinkedIn. The Microsoft owned social media platform this June demanded HiQ, an AI startup, cease and desist scraping data from its website. HiQ took LinkedIn to court over it earlier this month and won.
A Judge ruled LinkedIn didn’t own the data to such a degree that it had the right to prevent HiQ from compiling it. The court also ordered the social network to remove any technological impediments (things like IP blockers and bot blocking software) preventing HiQ from doing so.
It seemed like a huge win for bots, crawlers, and companies that do what HiQ does.
Rami Essaid, the co-founder and CEO of Distil Networks — a company that provides website security, including bot detection and mitigation – told us:
You see this a lot. One of these businesses will try to use data without the authorization of the company hosting it and, they usually lose these cases and have to stop. That’s the problem with building a business model on someone else’s platform.
The difference is that HiQ didn’t lose; it has the right to stay in business and will live to fight another day.
But Essaid raises an excellent point: to him the distinction is that LinkedIn gave consent to use the data, and then was perfectly within its rights to withdraw that consent.
Opponents to this line of reasoning claim it’s not LinkedIn’s data to begin with.
What’s on the line might be more than just whether HiQ can keep its doors open. Essaid, who had no problem telling us he’s taking LinkedIn’s side, said HiQ could end up liable for damages if LinkedIn were attacked while “unable to defend itself.” And there’s a bigger issue at stake:
These bots are taking up resources; if this ruling stands, it’s going to get pretty ugly. This could effect every company in tech. Right now every other user is a bot already. It’s not feasible for every site to host unlimited bots.