Air Canada Would Rather Sue A Website That Helps People Book More Flights Than Hire Competent Web Engineers
from the time-to-cross-air-canada-off-the-flight-list dept
I am so frequently confused by companies that sue other companies for making their own sites and services more useful. It happens quite often. And quite often, the lawsuits are questionable CFAA claims against websites that scrape data to provide a better consumer experience, but one that still ultimately benefits the originating site.
Over the last few years various airlines have really been leading the way on this, with Southwest being particularly aggressive in suing companies that help people find Southwest flights to purchase. Unfortunately, many of these lawsuits are succeeding, to the point that a court has literally said that a travel company can’t tell others how much Southwest flights cost.
But the latest lawsuit of this nature doesn’t involve Southwest, and is quite possibly the dumbest one. Air Canada has sued the site Seats.aero that helps users figure out the best flights for their frequent flyer miles. Seats.aero is a small operation run by the company with the best name ever: Localhost, meaning that the lawsuit is technically “Air Canada v. Localhost” which sounds almost as dumb as this lawsuit is.
The Air Canada Group brings this action because Mr. Ian Carroll—through Defendant Localhost LLC—created a for-profit website and computer application (or “app”)— both called Seats.aero—that use substantial amounts of data unlawfully scraped from the Air Canada Group’s website and computer systems. In direct violation of the Air Canada Group’s web terms and conditions, Carroll uses automated digital robots (or “bots”) to continuously search for and harvest data from the Air Canada Group’s website and database. His intrusions are frequent and rapacious, causing multiple levels of harm, e.g., placing an immense strain on the Air Canada Group’s computer infrastructure, impairing the integrity and availability of the Air Canada Group’s data, soiling the customer experience with the Air Canada Group, interfering with the Air Canada Group’s business relations with its partners and customers, and diverting the Air Canada Group’s resources to repair the damage. Making matters worse, Carroll uses the Air Canada Group’s federally registered trademarks and logo to mislead people into believing that his site, app, and activities are connected with and/or approved by the real Air Canada Group and lending an air of legitimacy to his site and app. The Air Canada Group has tried to stop Carroll’s activities via a number of technological blocking measures. But each time, he employs subterfuge to fraudulently access and take the data—all the while boasting about his exploits and circumvention online.
Almost nothing in this makes any sense. Having third parties scrape sites for data about prices is… how the internet works. Whining about it is stupid beyond belief. And here, it’s doubly stupid, because anyone who finds a flight via seats.aero is then sent to Air Canada’s own website to book that flight. Air Canada is making money because Carroll’s company is helping people find Air Canada flights they can take.
Why are they mad?
Air Canada’s lawyers also seem technically incompetent. I mean, what the fuck is this?
Through screen scraping, Carroll extracts all of the data displayed on the website, including the text and images.
Carroll also employs the more intrusive API scraping to further feed Defendant’s website.
If the “API scraping” is “more intrusive” than screen scraping, you’re doing your APIs wrong. Is Air Canada saying that its tech team is so incompetent that its API puts more load on the site than scraping? Because, if so, Air Canada should fire its tech team. The whole point of an API is to make it easier for those accessing data from your website without needing to do the more cumbersome process of scraping.
And, yes, this lawsuit really calls into question Air Canada’s tech team and their ability to run a modern website. If your website can’t handle having its flights and prices scraped a few times every day, then you shouldn’t have a website. Get some modern technology, Air Canada:
Defendant’s avaricious data scraping generates frequent and myriad requests to the Air Canada Group’s database—far in excess of what the Air Canada Group’s infrastructure was designed to handle. Its scraping collects a large volume of data, including flight data within a wide date range and across extensive flight origins and destinations—multiple times per day.
Maybe… invest in better infrastructure like basically every other website that can handle some basic scraping? Or, set up your API so it doesn’t fall over when used for normal API things? Because this is embarrassing:
At times, Defendant’s voluminous requests have placed such immense burdens on the Air Canada Group’s infrastructure that it has caused “brownouts.” During a brownout, a website is unresponsive for a period of time because the capacity of requests exceeds the capacity the website was designed to accommodate. During brownouts caused by Defendant’s data scraping, legitimate customers are unable to use or the Air Canada + Aeroplan mobile app, including to search for available rewards, redeem Aeroplan points for the rewards, search for and view reward travel availability, book reward flights, contact Aeroplan customer support, and/or obtain service through the Aeroplan contact center due to the high volume of calls during brownouts.
Air Canada’s lawyers also seem wholly unfamiliar with the concept of nominative fair use for trademarks. If you’re displaying someone’s trademarks for the sake of accurately talking about them, there’s no likelihood of confusion and no concern about the source of the information. Air Canada claiming that this is trademark infringement is ridiculous:
I guarantee that no one using Seats.aero thinks that they’re on Air Canada’s website.
The whole thing is so stupid that it makes me never want to fly Air Canada again. I don’t trust an airline that can’t set up its website/API to handle someone making its flights more attractive to buyers.
But, of course, in these crazy times with the way the CFAA has been interpreted, there’s a decent chance Air Canada could win.
For its part, Carroll says that he and his lawyers have reached out to Air Canada “repeatedly” to try to work with them on how they “retrieve availability information,” and that “Air Canada has ignored these offers.” He also notes that tons of other websites are scraping the very same information, and he has no idea why he’s been singled out. He further notes that he’s always been open to adjusting the frequency of searches and working with the airlines to make sure that his activities don’t burden the website.
But, really, the whole thing is stupid. The only thing that Carroll’s website does is help people buy more flights. It points people to the Air Canada site to buy tickets. It makes people want to fly more on Air Canada.
Why would Air Canada want to stop that other than that it can’t admit that it’s website operations should all be replaced by a more competent team?