Crossing the Data Line: Scraping, Online Data, and Web-based Databases

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The Web is like an infinite library. Prices, popularity, schedules, economic releases, weather data, ocean buoy heights—it’s all there, and often in realtime. It can feel like a data bonanza to more enlightened financial market sorts, with this profusion of data opening up myriad doors for new strategies that go far beyond the traditional reliance on company filings, earnings data, and quarterly conference calls.

But there is a problem. Many major web sites prohibit automated access to their site, with terms of use that say such usage is not permissible. Some argue that such prohibitions make no sense, and are likely not enforceable. Other companies take advantage of their less insightful competitors and open up their data to all comers, financial or otherwise.

It is a crucial issue, and we have insights from a prominent lawyer in the area, the CEO of a major web property, and one of the best known equity research firms using web-based data.

Tony Berkman

Majestic Research

Tony was previously Chief Risk Officer for Tower Capital, a $2 billion portfolio of hedge funds. Prior to Tower, he was a Director of Research for the $15 billion Zweig family of funds. Tony was named to Institutional Investor‘s “Online 40” annual ranking of e-finance leaders. He has a BS in Applied Math & Computer Science and an MS in Computational Finance from Carnegie Mellon University.

Photo of Stephen Kaufer

Stephen Kaufer


Prior to co-founding TripAdvisor, Kaufer was president of CDS, Inc., a successful independent software vendor specializing in programming and testing tools. Previously, Kaufer was co-founder and vice president of engineering of CenterLine Software, where he led the development of several award-winning programming environments that fueled the company’s growth to more than $20 million in revenue. Kaufer, winner of the 2005 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, holds several software patents and has spoken at dozens of travel and high-tech conferences worldwide. He is a board member of the Caring For Carcinoid Foundation ( a non-profit charity dedicated to finding a cure for Carcinoid and Neuroendocrine cancers. He has a B.S. in computer science from Harvard University.

Photo of Penny Herscher

Penny Herscher

FirstRain, Inc.

Penny joined FirstRain in 2004 with the mission to solve the qualitative information overload problem of the institutional investor. She has developed FirstRain as the leading search-driven research provider to the financial services market.

Prior to FirstRain, Penny was Chairman and CEO of Simplex Solutions where she led the company to an IPO and through the sale to Cadence Design Systems. She continued at Cadence as Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager of a major division. An executive at Synopsys, Penny started her career as an R&D engineer with Texas Instruments then Daisy Systems.

Penny serves on the boards of FirstRain, Rambus, the Anita Borg Institute, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte and CCPY (California Community Partners for Youth). Penny speaks on entrepreneurship, career management and technology challenges and has given talks at Berkeley, Stanford, BU and Santa Clara business schools as well as for numerous industry organizations and women’s career development organizations. She holds a B.A. with honors in mathematics from Cambridge University in England.


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