One of the very first things you hear when you attend a Competitive Intelligence (CI) seminar is that CI is the ethical gathering of intelligence. The reason that ethics is stressed so highly when discussion CI, is that if your CI team is dabbling in unethical behavior (and that gets exposed), it reflects upon your whole organization and casts a shadow upon everything you do.

It seems that there are some reporters at Bloomberg L.P. may need to sit back in on some of those classes on ethics. The report in the New York Times states that reporters used information found through Bloomberg Terminal usage from banks and traders to break stories on certain people being fired from those companies (based upon users that suddenly “went dark” … i.e., were no longer logging into their Terminals.) That type of information, while effective, falls squarely on the unethical side of the ledger, and as a result gives all of Bloomberg a black eye.

Immediately, we all started wondering what exposure law firms had to this type of research, and if there were additional issues that were at play. According to Jean O’Grady’s blog, Dewey B. Strategic, the Bloomberg Law platform was not included in this type of internal research strategy. O’Grady contacted Greg McCaffery, CEO of Bloomberg Law, and got confirmation on that point. However, as Jean also points out, many law firms have the Terminals as well as Bloomberg Law access. It brings up ligitimate questions like the one Ed Walters of Fastcase asked on Twitter yesterday:

Alledgedly, Bloomberg reporters where systematically using this type of research on a regular basis. Hundreds of reporters used the technique according to the NY Times article. It simply makes Bloomberg look bad.

In this age of instant communications, hacking, and whistle-blowers, unethical behavior is very difficult to keep covered up. This should be held up as an example to others in the world of information gathering, that if you are performing unethical practices, you should expect that eventually those practices will be exposed. When they are, you will need to spend years repairing the damage.

This same type of damage can happen with Competitive Intelligence research. Be very careful how you conduct your gathering processes, and ask yourself what would happen if those practices were exposed to the public.