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Ownership and control over publicly accessible platform data

Teresa Scassa (Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 14 May 2019

Issue publication date: 9 October 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine how claims to “ownership” are asserted over publicly accessible platform data and critically assess the nature and scope of rights to reuse these data.


Using Airbnb as a case study, this paper examines the data ecosystem that arises around publicly accessible platform data. It analyzes current statute and case law in order to understand the state of the law around the scraping of such data.


This paper demonstrates that there is considerable uncertainty about the practice of data scraping, and that there are risks in allowing the law to evolve in the context of battles between business competitors without a consideration of the broader public interest in data scraping. It argues for a data ecosystem approach that can keep the public dimension issues more squarely within the frame when data scraping is judicially considered.

Practical implications

The nature of some sharing economy platforms requires that a large subset of their data be publicly accessible. These data can be used to understand how platform companies operate, to assess their compliance with laws and regulations and to evaluate their social and economic impacts. They can also be used in different kinds of data analytics. Such data are therefore sought after by civil society organizations, researchers, entrepreneurs and regulators. This paper considers who has a right to control access to and use of these data, and addresses current uncertainties in how the law will apply to scraping activities, and builds an argument for a consideration of the public interest in data scraping.


The issue of ownership/control over publicly accessible information is of growing importance; this paper offers a framework for approaching these legal questions.



The author gratefully acknowledges the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Thanks to Nathan Hoo and Joël Boisvert for their research assistance.


Scassa, T. (2019), "Ownership and control over publicly accessible platform data", Online Information Review, Vol. 43 No. 6, pp. 986-1002.



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