Competitive Intelligence and Information Systems

The purpose of this document is to compare ethical issues that may or may not exist with using an information system, which is designed to gather strategic information, based upon a competitor’s customer base.  Also included within this document is an assessment of ethics as it pertains to customers whom are individuals as well as businesses.

When using an information system to gather information about a competitor’s customers, it is important to know ethical issues that could be questioned. Many company’s believe it is important to gather information about competitors in order for them to provide a quality product at a competitive price, however there are some activities that should be avoided in order to prevent unethical activities from taking place. Some acceptable types of information being gathered and methods for gathering the information include; asking customer’s about equipment and pricing of competitors, asking employees of other businesses about the company’s practices, searching for information through public resources, reading books or publications about other companies, asking other people about practices that might be useful to the company. Any company has a right to information about competitors as long as they obtain the information through the means that is accessible to the public (, 2006). Information, which is obtained through covert surveillance, is considered unacceptable as well as any information, which is gained through the influence of personnel holding any confidential information. Any information, which is gained through deception, is illegal and not an acceptable way to gain information about a competitor.

When gaining strategic information about a competitor there are acceptable customers and unacceptable customers from which information can be gained. It is completely acceptable and ethical to gain information from customers of a competitive business as long as the customers are individuals or if the customer is another business then they are not one of the competitors. If information is being gathered from a competitor from a customer who is a business and is in the same type of business, then this is not only unacceptable, but also unethical as well. It is unacceptable to gain information either by the way of first hand or third party about information that is proprietary about a particular business. Any proprietary information, which belongs to a competitor, should never be used to benefit a company. If a company chooses to use proprietary information that belongs to another company it is apparent they do not abide by the code of professional conduct of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals. Using competitive intelligence practices to gain information about competitors is legal and ethical as long as companies use public means of obtaining information.

In the world of competitive intelligence (CI) there are ethical issues that arise from the lack of guidance, however when ethical means are used, using an information system to track information about competitors should be completely accepted. Many companies take business ethics very seriously, however some competitive intelligence practitioners feel that many difficult ethical decisions are currently being left up to them to make the judgment call on and this is due to the current ethical guidance being too vague to be very helpful with making ethical decisions (Sexton, 2007). When accepted methods are used and an information system is maintained to track this information about competitors, there is nothing ethically wrong about that.

In conclusion, there are many ethical issues in which people are faced with on a day to day basis in the business world, however using illegal or deceptive means to gather information about competitors is not only unethical, but should be unacceptable. Using deceptive means to gather information about competitors, dumpster diving, conducting covert surveillance, and even stealing documents are a few examples of unethical means of gathering information. The methods from which competitive intelligence is obtained should be scrutinized and should adhere to a strict code of ethics, however using acceptable means to obtain information and then tracking that information within an information system is completely acceptable and currently utilized.

1. (2006, February 16th). Benchmarking and Reverse Engineering (Advice from The Ethics Office at Texas Instruments Corporation) – Online Ethics Home. Retrieved August 23, 2008, from Benchmarking and Reverse Engineering (Advice from The Ethics Office at Texas Instruments Corporation) – Online Ethics Home Web site:
2. Sexton, Tiina-Liisa (2007, October). Retrieved August 23, 2008, from Questionable intelligence gathering | Intheblack | Find Articles at BNET Web site:

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