Three Pieces of Ethical High Ground to Protect at All Costs
Ethics are important in all aspects of business, but particularly so in the case of competitive intelligence. The information you collect in a human intelligence effort tends to be sensitive in nature, and the methods you use to collect it can land you, or your client, in hot water. Accordingly, here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you set out to interview your subjects:
- Never misrepresent yourself as someone you’re not, even if you are tempted do so at a trade show, on the phone, or on social networking sites. At the same time, you don’t need to volunteer any information that’s not requested — for example, independent competitive intelligence agencies typically decline to identify the client they are working for.
- Establish how interviewee information will be used in advance, including where their quotes may appear and whether their names will appear in your report. Agreeing on these terms in advance with both your client and your interviewees helps avoid misunderstandings. That protects everyone concerned, including your reputation for fairness.
- Don’t target trade secrets or other confidential information, which could open you or your company to legal liability or create serious trouble for your sources. The same or similar information is typically available through open source intelligence or conversations with individuals who are not covered by a non-disclosure agreement. Moreover, the contacts you make will be more likely to work with you in the future.
Finally, know that you are a “white hat” in this industry. There are CI firms (often off-shore) that won’t follow any of these rules. Clients use them at their peril, and in our experience, you don’t need to break the law or the SCIP code of ethics to find yourself busy enough that you’re turning away work.
This blog entry concludes a four-part series related to human-intelligence gathering. The first post, “Three Aspects of Identifying Humans,” is all about deciding whom you should interview and how to encourage them to participate, as well as how to develop a rapport with them once you do. The second post, “Three Sources for Tips in the Search for Human Intelligence,” helps competitive intelligence organizations establish best practices for human intelligence. The third, “Three Ways to Bias Your Interviews (or Not),” discusses some issues associated with interview bias, what effects that bias could have on competitive intelligence projects, and how to keep those effects from occurring.
By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart