Oxylabs: Using ethical web scraping to contribute to the public good
Wondering what ethical web scraping is and how could it benefit your institution? Then get to know our newest organizational member – Oxylabs. Following their involvement as a Silver Sponsor of the 2022 UIIN Conference, it was a pleasure to catch up with the Head of PR, Vytautas Kirjazovas, and PR Manager, Gabija Birgile, to learn about their experiences with university-industry engagement and their mission to promote ethical web scraping as a powerful tool that can contribute to the public good.
Oxylabs is the leading provider of ethical tools and solutions for large-scale public web data gathering. Founded in 2015 in Vilnius, Lithuania, the company has quickly grown into a leading force in the proxy market, driven by its passion for innovation and strong business ethics. The latter is especially important for the company because of the stigma around unethical data scraping, which unfortunately still prevails in the self-regulated industry. As Gabija explains: “It is our mission to spotlight the potential of the ethical web scraping and to show that academia and researchers, just as much as companies and governmental institutions, could utilize the technology as a powerful tool that can contribute to the public good”.
Oxylabs has achieved various successes over the years when tackling societal challenges with their services. A stand-out case is their win of the 2020 GovTech Lab Challenge, set out by the Communications Regulatory Authority of the Republic of Lithuania (RRT) to combat the rising amount of illegal content on the internet. The Oxylabs team created an AI-driven model that streamlines the detection and removal of prohibited online content by scanning the Lithuanian internet space and alerting authorities to take action once the content is recognized. “Up until recently, the authorities had to manually collect this content via a tip, but now they can also collect it by using a uniquely trained AI recognition system and then, if necessary – involve the police”, shared Gabija.
We aim to enhance students’ understanding of critical public web data regarding ethics, legal and tech aspects. We want to give a hands-on experience to our solutions so that they could enter the industry and already be aware of how to be as ethical as you can be in this game”
Having already worked with several universities across the globe, Oxylabs officially launched its pro bono initiative, Project 4β, where it will collaborate with universities to discover various applications of ethical web scraping that can solve real-world problems. For example, Oxylabs partnered with the University of Michigan to share resources and materials about ethical web scraping to help students gain a better understanding of the complex subject. With a panel discussion and an in-depth lecture, Oxylabs’ legal team shared up-to-date insights and informed students about the potential legal ramifications they may encounter while scraping the web. The team is planning to host more workshops and provide try-out tools to ensure students in the future are aware of the best practices and can safeguard the industry from within.
Following the pro bono initiative, the team, in the future, aims to solidify their university collaborations and build talent pipelines, helping students gain practical experience through internships at Oxylabs. “We aim to enhance students’ understanding of critical public web data regarding ethics, legal and tech aspects. We want to give a hands-on experience to our solutions so that they could enter the industry and already be aware of how to be as ethical as you can be in this game”, tells Vytautas. Moreover, the team is looking into research grants as a way to provide a monetary value for research projects that need web scraping technology and are meant to change the world for the better.
It is a priority for us to get in contact with universities to bring more awareness, but also to learn first-hand about their struggles and tech capabilities to understand where we can be useful and fill those gaps”
While working towards these goals, the team has a few challenges to overcome – not only relating to the stigma around web scraping but even more so relating to the relatively low demand and knowledge of universities about the capabilities and potential of the technology. As Vytautas explains: “It is a priority for us to get in contact with universities to bring more awareness, but also to learn first-hand about their struggles and tech capabilities to understand where we can be useful and fill those gaps”.
Sponsoring the 2022 UIIN Conference provided an opportunity to connect with universities from across the globe and bring awareness to the new pro bono initiative. “UIIN provided a great networking platform to meet face-to-face with university representatives, start those initial conversations, and build potential partnerships – and we are still in talks with a couple of university representatives we met at the conference”, tells Gabija. The team is therefore looking forward to expanding the collaborations within the UIIN Community: “We are very delighted to join the community and are eager to learn more about the challenges, the directions, and how Oxylabs can be a partner for each university. Specifically, we have heard of struggles with data collection and universities looking to maximize their impact and research – this is where Oxylabs comes in and can assist” – Gabija & Vytautas.
Would you like to connect with the Oxylabs team and learn more about their services?
Read more about the pro bono Project 4β and get in contact with the team via email or contact Gabija Birgile directly.
Images credits: Oxylabs