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Espionage Alert: How to Crack the Competitive Intelligence Code Without Breaking Ethical & Legal Boundaries

January 17, 2023 (3 min read)

When most people hear the word, “espionage,” they likely picture a spy from the big screen—James Bond for action junkies or perhaps Austin Powers for comedy lovers. But espionage isn’t confined to Hollywood thrillers.

Companies around the world have been the victims of corporate or industrial espionage. Over a decade ago, Bloomberg published an article about infamous cases of corporate espionage, saying “For as long as there has been commerce, there has been espionage.” Then, to prove the point, the article offered the example of a Jesuit missionary who, while visiting China in the early 1700s, just happened to pick up the secret technique for making high-quality porcelain to bring back to France. Which begs the question, when does corporate intelligence become unethical?

Nexis is here with the answers--and the tools to help you help you avoid corporate intelligence ethical issues. Here's what to consider.  

Keeping competitive intelligence research ethical

Authentic competitive intelligence (CI) delivers essential insights to decision makers across an enterprise, helping organizations anticipate competitive threats, fuel innovation, and inform long-range plans. And conducting CI research is significantly easier in the digital age since company and executive data is available through cloud-based tools. However it isn’t without risk.

To address the potential for misuse and abuse of proprietary company information, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) has established a strict code of ethics to follow that lists legal and ethical ways to gather competitive intelligence, including:

  • To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession
  • To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international
  • To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one’s identity and organization, prior to all interviews
  • To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one’s duties
  • To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one’s duties
  • To promote this code of ethics within one’s company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession
  • To faithfully adhere to and abide by one’s company policies, objectives and guidelines

Ethical competitive intelligence research gathers relevant data—from legally obtained sources—about individual competitors, as well as the competitive landscape within a particular industry or market segment.

What is the difference between competitive intelligence and corporate espionage?

Now, let’s look at the negative side—corporate espionage. The digital age, unfortunately, makes corporate espionage significantly easier, too. For example, a disgruntled employee can load thousands of sensitive documents on an easy-to-hide thumb drive. Or, cyber attacks can infiltrate corporate servers and steal huge volumes of data in an instant. Other examples of espionage, illegal or unethical competitive intelligence include:

  • Accessing a competitor’s property or files without permission
  • Posing as a competitor’s employee to access proprietary information and trade secrets
  • Wiretapping or hacking a competitor
  • Attacking a competitor’s website with malware

According to the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, corporate espionage cost the economy $300 billion and 2.1 million jobs in 2013—and the methods for stealing data have only gotten more sophisticated since then.

Working within the rules for ethical competitive intelligence

Competitive intelligence, when done right, can give your organization an edge—legally. What should your CI strategy include? Naturally, you should look internally to start your research. Team up with sales to procure interviews with new customers and lost prospects, then conduct win/loss analysis to understand the factors that led to a closing or losing a deal, pinpointing:

  • Competitors’ key selling points for products or services
  • Misunderstandings about your products or services that need to be clarified moving forward
  • Advantages and disadvantages related to marketing messages or sales process

And don’t forget to follow up with other experts across your organization. You can pick their brains for insights into market trends or competitors’ habits. Afterwards, ask them to keep you in the loop if they come across any other interesting resources.

How to keep your conduct ethical competitive intelligence research with Nexis

You can tap industry experts outside your company, but if time is tight (and it always is), you can skip the interviews and focus on the content they produce. But instead of painstaking open web research, consider a solution like Nexis®.

With a world-leading database spanning print, broadcast and web news, thought-leader and industry blogs, company financial information, legal and patents data and more, Nexis puts comprehensive competitive intelligence research at your fingertips. Powerful pre- and post-search filters make it easy to cut through the clutter to refined results sets that let you uncover insights more efficiently. And because LexisNexis® works with publishers to manage copyright compliance, you can use the information you uncover with 007-level confidence while knowing that your competitive intelligence has been gathered ethically and legally.

Next Steps:

  1. Check out our eBook for more tips: 8 Phases of Competitive Intelligence Research
  2. Download the Nexis Overview to learn more.

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