Earlier today, news broke that Craigslist has taken legal action against PadMapper and Craigslist API creator 3Taps — after an ongoing disagreement over the scraping of Craigslist data to use in a third-party service (3Taps became PadMapper’s partner for data acquisition after PadMapper got the initial C&D). We’ve also found out that at least one other developer has been getting cease & desist correspondence from the listings giant. The move shows that Craigslist is making a much stronger and wider effort to ensure that its data stays on its own site, and goes nowhere else.
Jeff Kastner, a website developer based in Missouri, tells TechCrunch that Craigslist issued him a similar order to stop using its data. The order was not just for a Craigslist-based site he had developed (www.vending-machinez.info, which now goes to a holding page but had sold, you guessed it, vending machine products); but also for a post on his own blog, where he advertised the sale of a pre-populated Classifieds Website (which had nothing to do with Craigslist data).
We have the letter from Craigslist embedded below. Update: we’ve been requested to remove the letter, which we have done.
Kastner’s story underscores just how much money there can be made from using Craigslist data — perhaps one of the reasons why Craigslist does not like these sites. He says that while his site was not nearly as popular as PadMapper, it had still brought in over its lifetime $24,000 in AdSense revenues, “despite the fact that I also redirected all traffic back to their site.”
Kastner says that when he wrote to Craigslist for clarification, especially on the post on his own site, he never got a response. In any case, the lawyers for Craigslist threatened legal action totaling $25,000 per day, so he’s taken down both offending items — vending machine website and post on his own blog. Craigslist also stipulated that he cannot write about this incident on his own website. That’s why Kastner came to TechCrunch.
We’ve contacted Craigslist to see if they can explain whether there are others getting similar letters, and will update this post when they respond.
But there may be at least one more on the list: One popular Chrome plugin, Ziink’s Craigslist helper, which was aimed at making “Craigslist easier and more productive. It makes finding the ads you are searching for easier,” has deactivated its web browser plugins (they had existed for Chrome, Firefox and Safari). We’ve reached out to Ziink to get more details, too. Update: Ziink has confirmed that he, too, was contacted by Craigslist’s legal people to cease and desist.
To be clear, just as PadMapper did, Kastner’s script referred everyone back to Craigslist. And like the others, the whole purpose was to improve the browsing experience with the main site, which can be wickedly hard to navigate. “I was definitely sending a lot of traffic their way as people wouldn’t find my sites unless they were using the search engines to search for Craigslist items,” he notes.
“What I find almost funny is that they’re going after people in this manner,” Kastner adds. “There are million dollar businesses” — he cites WP Robot as one example — that automate the process of scraping and sell to everyone.” Will Craigslist be approaching them all?
There are other data scrapers out there, and some might not be so compliant as Kastner has. “Forcing the average scraper to shut down, what they do will in most cases just make them release their scripts to the public (be it blackhat forums or whatever) anonymously,” he says. The way of the world in today’s climate of hacktivism, I guess.
He notes that “The easy solution would be to make scraping impossible, as Amazon does on its pages.” Perhaps that’s what Craigslist has planned next.