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In every area of marketing on the web there are questions surrounding morality and fairness. These debates generally stem from questionable practices, and more specifically from uncovering those that are involved in such “foul play” pertaining to their area of so-called expertise. With Search Engine Optimization, there have been numerous malpractices, known as black hat SEO, from link farms to cloaking, which achieve numerous links by deceiving search engines and misrepresenting actual content on site. Luckily, for those of us that wish for search engines to return relevant results and not those which contain massive metatags or get the majority of their rank from sites riddled with unrelated links, search engines are smarter now.

But the debate still remains, whether or not certain practices are ethical. Competitive Intelligence is one of these areas with a significant grey area between what is considered right and that which is not.

Consider sites that store information about other sites. Whois.net, for example, is a domain-based research service, which will return numerous facts about any domain name, including registrant, server, date registered, and more. Many other sites like Whois.net will disclose similar information. Additionally, searching on Yahoo, appending “link:” to a domain name will show all incoming links to that domain, and it’s various pages.

As you can imagine, there are a significant number of ways to retrieve information about a competitor through publicly accessible sites and databases, so as one may wonder, where is the line drawn?

  • First and foremost, anything that is illegal applies online as well. This may be a no-brainer for most of us, but there are still those that think being behind a screen protects them from certain laws, like plagiary. This is most certainly not the case.
  • Public databases, searches, and information are available for everyone; what they choose to do with what they find is their decision, and the choice to use that information in an ethical manner is theirs, as well as any consequences which may result.
  • Analyzing data is a large part of Competitive Intelligence. Obtaining such data through illegal practices, such as bribery, bugging, or theft, is of course considered to be extremely unethical.

The best way to protect yourself against such practices is to ask a lot of questions of your Internet Marketing Firm. As part of a firm that insists on ethical practices, we are happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have about the services we offer.

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