Seattle, WA asked in Business Law, Consumer Law, Copyright and Internet Law for Washington

Q: Is it legal to build software that crawls the public Reddit posts of someone and derives statistics/patterns from it?

Basic idea: while browsing online, people come across others that appeal to them in some way (insightful post, match in interests, etc). Normally, a long process of scanning through their content is then needed, to see if they match enough to be worth further effort.

My idea is to create software to automate this, by crawling the person's public content and reporting various factors (eg. interests, religious views, guessed relationship status, etc.).

I'm concerned some of my ideas may violate privacy laws, however; so, split into subquestions:

1) Is it ok to crawl public Reddit posts passively (by my server code), and store data-analytics such as interest-specific "keywords", AI-calculated "sentiment" ratings, subreddits joined, etc?

2) If passive crawling is not ok, what about if only done for the accounts requested by a user of my app?

3) If server-based operation is not ok, what if the app does the crawling+storing "locally only", ie. keeping it on the user's device only?

2 Lawyer Answers
Robert Kost
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  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Pittsburgh, PA

A: On the face of it, there is nothing in your proposal that would infringe copyright rights or constitute an invasion of privacy. None of the refinements offered in items 1 to 3 really affect the answer substantially. You will want to look carefully at Reddit's terms of service (including their API terms of service) to see whether you're violating them.

A: As long as it is all public information, I don't see a privacy problem. Depending on the circumstances, "guessed relationship status" might possibly raise a legal issue if the guess is incorrect. Apart from privacy, there might be a patent infringement claim if someone else has patented a computer program for this process.

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