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How to Adhere to Legal and Ethical Guidelines in Competitive Intelligence

Before you engage in competitive intelligence, you should establish legal and ethical standards for gathering information. Obviously, planting spies in your competitor’s organization and hacking into its network are prohibited, but even more subtle intelligence tactics, such as listening to private conversations, cross the line.

Here’s a quick test to determine if you can ethically use certain information you collected. Simply answer yes or no to each of the following questions:

  • Is the information publicly available? If the information is public, it’s fair game.

  • Is the information in plain view? Plain view means that the owners of the information knowingly made it public; their intention was to allow it to become available to outside parties. If you can’t be certain that the information was intentionally and knowingly made public, you shouldn’t use it in any way.

  • Was the information obtained in a manner that was above reproach? Above reproach means that any reasonable, moral, and ethical human being would consider the way you obtained the information to be fair. If any reasonable person could possibly perceive your actions as unethical, then you’re not acting above reproach.

  • Was the information obtained from an inside source? If the information originated from someone inside the organization and it’s not publicly available, you can use it only if you have permission to do so from an authorized representative of the company.

These questions are the first line of defense for steering clear of the most common legal and ethical pitfalls of conducting CI. In addition, violations may occur depending on the circumstances.

Don’t cheat. You can obtain the information you need legally and ethically. If you try to bend the rules, you may be exposing yourself and your organization to legal action and place your organization’s and your own reputation at risk.

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