Home > Competitive Intelligence, Ethics > Unethical CI – out in the open!

Unethical CI – out in the open!

As a competitive intelligence specialist, we try to practice what we preach – and keep an eye on our own competitors. In most cases, we view ourselves as complementers as much as we are also competitors. There is enough work for all of us – and the market is far from saturated.

Part of the task of a Competitive Intelligence consultancy is to show companies that competitive intelligence is a necessary business skill – and that it is legitimate and ethical to outsource competitor research to external consultants whatever can’t be handled in-house. (Reasons for outsourcing include lack of time, lack of skills and experience and the need for an objective view – which can’t be obtained by doing research in-house). In fact AWARE views training in competitive & marketing intelligence as a key element of its business mission, so as to raise CI/MI skills.

There are many ethical competitive intelligence consultants apart from us – in the USA there is Market Analytics, Fuld and Aurorawdc to name three. In Australia – the Mindshifts Group,  led by CI industry leader Babette Bensoussan is important. Within Europe there are similar consultancies. We link to a number of top CI consultancies on our alliances web pages.

Unfortunately there are also several companies that fall short ethically and even legally. I recently came across one – with a great domain name, but that’s as far as it goes.  This “business intelligence” company (which I won’t name for now, for legal reasons), openly states that they engage in industrial espionage.

Secondary research – their “light touch” is legitimate if it doesn’t employ hacking or password cracking. However their in-depth research placing moles into the target company is highly unethical and probably illegal (depending on the information supplied, and any non-disclosure agreements signed by the agent and their “employer”).

Such behaviour brings all competitive intelligence under suspicion – which is part of the rationale behind this post: to expose such shenanigans.

Fortunately this “business intelligence service”  doesn’t come cheap and only very few (probably desperate) companies will avail themselves of such services. In fact the company actually implies this by saying on their web-site:

We hope that you never need our services, but if you do, then you can be assurred of an excellent service.

Their charges range from £10,000 for the “light touch” research to £150,000 for their in-depth research (including “employee placement and surveillance“). Even this is not their top price. When looking at individuals, pricing ranges from £25,000 for “light touch” research verifying personal details, employment, connected people, etc. to £200,000 for fully in-depth analysis (lifetime checks, asset checks, lifestyle, etc.). Some assignments are charged at fees of up to £25,000 per day (although most are claimed to be a fraction of this).

To put things into context, we have never charged anything like £10,000 for pure desk research and from conversations with other consultants, they haven’t either.

They claim that their “researchers” come from military, police and government service backgrounds – but they don’t mention any business or marketing background. They seem to be ignoring, or perhaps do not even know the risks involved in industrial espionage and based on what they offer, I’d question whether they’d see the value in standard strategic analysis as a means for understanding competitors. (The US Economic Espionage Act, 1996 is just one risk. Even when companies don’t go to law, there can be serious financial ramifications for espionage).

Instead of looking at public non-confidential intelligence that, when aggregated, can create a detailed picture of all aspects of a company they seem to prefer subterfuge. Such approaches may say what a company is currently planning but it won’t help in understanding what the company is thinking or likely to do in the future

Interestingly this company is not as immune to standard CI investigation as they probably think. Standard secondary research suggests that they use a Plymouth, UK, based front company for finding work placements for their agents, and that their minimalist web-site has at least one hidden / secret directory – which can be found by searching for a robots.txt file. 

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