Open Finance

Screen Scraping Unveiled: The What and How

Brankas Team March 27, 2024
Screen Scraping Unveiled: The What and How

Screen Scraping Unveiled: The What and How

Data fuels innovation in a digital world, and accessibility is an overriding concern. Screen scraping is a technique to extract information from websites, applications, and online platforms with remarkable precision.

Imagine you are an avid online shopper. You frequently check multiple e-commerce websites to compare prices for the same product. It can be time-consuming to visit each site, find the product, and note the price. Here’s where screen scraping comes into play.

A screen scraping tool, like a web scraping application, can simplify this process. You provide the tool with a list of the websites and the specific product you are interested in. It then automatically navigates to each website, finds the product’s price, and compiles this information into a neat, easy-to-read list for you. Screen scraping is essentially your digital shopping assistant, helping you save time and make informed purchase decisions. It is like having a personal shopper who scours the web for the best deals, all thanks to screen scraping technology.

What is Screen Scraping?

Screen scraping is a data extraction technique that involves automatically collecting information or data from one computer program’s display (the output on your screen) and using it in another application. It mimics human interaction with software to retrieve, display, and organize data from various sources.

Screen scraping has been around for a while, dating back to the early days of computing. Initially, it was used for simple tasks such as data entry automation. It has evolved significantly over the years, becoming more sophisticated with the advent of powerful scripting languages and web technologies.

Typical Uses of Screen Scraping

Screen scraping serves several purposes, which can be categorized into two main groups. The first encompasses instances where users must share sensitive information, like login credentials, to facilitate the screen scraping process, commonly referred to as “credential sharing.”

The second group involves collecting publicly available data to power comparison websites, verify ad placements, or transfer information from older legacy systems to modern applications.

Common examples include:

1. Accessing and analyzing bank account information: Screen scraping is most associated with financial services. It involves extracting a customer’s bank account data, often requiring access to the customer’s bank account through shared credentials. This data can then be used outside the originating app.

2. Initiating payments: Businesses perform actions rather than merely collecting data. With customer consent, a provider may use screen scraping to access a bank account and initiate a payment to another account. For instance, a budgeting app might transfer funds to a different account owned by the customer to capitalize on a better interest rate.

3. Conducting affordability checks: Organizations seeking to assess your financial history and spending habits may request your consent to scrape your bank account for relevant information. For instance, a loan provider might use screen scraping to evaluate your loan affordability quickly.

4. Data storage for future use: Much of the credential sharing through screen scraping is about constructing a more comprehensive understanding of a customer’s financial activities. Companies may gather this data to store and employ it at a later stage.

5. Data theft: Although most of the screen scraping is conducted by legitimate businesses with customer consent, cybercriminals may also exploit this technique to steal data from unsuspecting online users.

These use cases underscore the dual nature of screen scraping, serving both legitimate business purposes and potentially nefarious activities. Users need to be aware of the context in which their data is shared and the security implications associated with it.

How Screen Scraping Works Step by Step

Screen scraping is a systematic process involving three key steps:

1. Data extraction: In the first step, screen scraping identifies and extracts data from the display. This process is typically initiated by a script or a program that interacts with the graphical user interface (GUI). The script scans the screen for specific information, such as text, numbers, or images, and captures this data.

Imagine you have a weather app on your smartphone. This app collects weather information from various websites. It “extracts” data such as temperature, wind speed, and precipitation forecasts from these sites to provide you with the most up-to-date and accurate weather information for your location.

2. Data processing: Once the data is extracted, the screen scraping tool processes it. This step can involve cleaning and formatting the data to make it usable. For instance, it might remove unnecessary characters, spaces, or formatting to present the data in a structured manner.

A common example of data processing is an e-commerce website. When you shop online and add items to your cart, the website processes this data in real-time, calculating the total cost, applying discounts, and updating the cart contents. It ensures you see the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding your shopping choices.

3. Data integration: Finally, the extracted and processed data is integrated into the desired application, database, or software. It can be used to update information, create reports, automate tasks, or perform various other operations within an organization’s workflow.

Consider an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system used by a large corporation. This system integrates data from various departments, such as finance, human resources, and supply chain management, into a single platform. It ensures that decision-makers have a comprehensive view of the organization’s data, enabling more informed choices across the business.

The Significance of Screen Scraping in Open Banking

Screen scraping in the context of banking is the practice of a third-party application or service extracting data from a user’s online banking interface. This process involves retrieving financial information from bank websites or mobile applications, often by mimicking user interactions. Screen scraping has been a longstanding method for fintech companies and third-party providers to access users' financial data with their consent. It enables the extraction of account balances, transaction history, and other banking-related information.

Financial institutions encounter both benefits and challenges in the context of screen scraping. The benefits include fostering innovation and competition in the banking industry. It encourages the development of a wide range of financial tools and services, creating more options for consumers.

Screen scraping also poses challenges. One of the primary concerns is security. When customers share their login credentials with third-party providers, it raises the risk of unauthorized access to their accounts. Screen scraping can lead to higher server loads on the bank’s systems and may affect the quality of online banking services.

Many financial institutions are transitioning toward open banking APIs to address these challenges. Open APIs offer a more secure, efficient, and regulated way for third parties to access customer data. This shift is expected to reduce the reliance on screen scraping while maintaining data security and privacy, ultimately benefiting financial institutions and their customers.

APIs are The Better Choice for Accessing Data

Data is the backbone of many online services and applications, and accessing data efficiently and securely is crucial. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and screen scraping are methods to gather data from websites or applications, but APIs have become the preferred choice for many businesses for several reasons:

1. Data accuracy and consistency

APIs provide structured, well-defined data, ensuring the information you receive is accurate and consistent. With APIs, data is delivered in a format that is ready for use, saving you the effort of sifting through unstructured data that screen scraping often provides.

2. Security and privacy

APIs offer a more secure way to access data. When you use an API, you are usually provided with a secure and authorized channel to access specific information, maintaining data privacy. In contrast, screen scraping may require sharing login credentials, which can pose security risks.

3. Reliability and consistency

APIs are designed for reliability. They provide a consistent way to interact with an application or website, ensuring your data retrieval process will not break or become inconsistent due to website changes. On the other hand, screen scraping can be more fragile because it relies on the visual structure of a website, which can change frequently.

4. Improved performance

APIs are efficient in terms of performance. They can handle many requests simultaneously and are optimized for speed. With screen scraping, you may encounter slower data retrieval processes, particularly when you are scraping large amounts of data from websites.

5. Compliance with regulations

APIs allow businesses to ensure they are compliant with data regulations. Many modern APIs are designed with built-in data privacy and security measures, which is essential for businesses dealing with sensitive data.

6. Developer-friendly

For businesses looking to develop applications or integrate data into their systems, APIs provide well-documented and developer-friendly tools, making it easier and quicker to access and utilize data.

7. Long-term stability

Using APIs is a more sustainable approach. With screen scraping, your data retrieval methods may become obsolete if a website or application undergoes significant changes. APIs, on the other hand, offer long-term stability, ensuring your data access remains reliable.

Elevate your clients’ user experience with cutting-edge banking APIs from Brankas for a seamless digital journey.

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