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I believe Google's Terms and Conditions prohibit bot scraping: that is, submitting lots of (automated) search queries in a short time.

This is enforced by mechanisms such as CAPTCHAs and IP blacklisting.

But suppose a researcher, say based in UK, managed to work around them, get a big amount of data from Google searches and use it to publish some research.

Could they get, theoretically, into trouble? Would they, practically? Would the above depend on how they circumvented Google's checks (i.e., by using lots of proxies)?

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  • Follow up: the answers I got made me look further, and I found this candid interview on Nature, where a researcher seems to implicitly admit he deliberately violated TCs. This left me scratching my head: nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04190-5 – anon Jan 6 at 18:45
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Yes, it is possible. The published research could be used as evidence in a lawsuit, where your impermissible access caused them some damage. As plaintiff, they would have to establish that the data in the publication most likely came from Google, and that there is no way to get that data legally. The defendant's burden would be to refute plaintiff's argument (showing that there is another way, or that the access was with permission). It is also possible that you could be civilly or criminally liable for violating a statute against unauthorized computer access. SCOTUS is hearing a case designed to clarify the current murky situation in the US, regarding the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Similar laws exist in the UK (Computer Misuse Act and Police and Justice Act §35), which seem to be more clearly designed to prevent what you have in mind.

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  • Your references to concrete laws and cases was much appreciated, thank you. – anon Jan 6 at 22:10
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First of all, Google's TOS says

we reasonably believe that your conduct causes harm or liability to a user, third party, or Google — for example, by hacking, phishing, harassing, spamming, misleading others, or scraping content that doesn’t belong to you

And you ask:

But suppose a researcher, say based in UK, managed to work around them, get a big amount of data from Google searches and use it to publish some research.

You're confusing methods with results. Someone uses methods to get a result, but if the results are not legal, the methods are usually illegal, too.

Would the above depend on how they circumvented Google's checks (i.e., by using lots of proxies)?

The words "or scraping content that doesn’t belong to you" means just that; it does not give any wiggle room for the actual method used to scrape.

Could they get, theoretically, into trouble?

Very much so. The researcher would have at least civil liability, and possibly criminal exposure.

Would they, practically?

Google can be very not kind to people who break their TOS. And Google has lots of money to spend on lawyers and court fees to enforce their TOS. Google would probably be able to easily prove the data came from their servers, and would probably have server logs to help prove it.

And see user6726's answer for specific legal citations in the US and UK.

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  • I see. Thanks for your answer. Now I wonder how this guy got away with that: nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04190-5 – anon Jan 6 at 17:58
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    @anon many, many people get away with breaking all sorts of laws – Dale M Jan 6 at 20:29
  • @DaleM: BoJo comes to mind ;) – anon Jan 16 at 11:57

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