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One of the downsides of the Internet is the lack of privacy. It can be amusing to see individuals jump up and down because Facebook has breached their privacy when the exact same information is freely available on their website. I guess it’s the principle at stake. However, it does lead to my point that, online, there is very little privacy. When it comes to competitive intelligence, the information is out there and often easy to find.

The biggest source of information are the search engines. Search engines spend their whole being scouring the web looking for information that hasn’t been indexed, and updating information it already has. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing the search engines only index web pages – they certainly don’t. Images, videos, tweets, and forum posts along with a million and one other social media conversations are all being indexed and, once indexed, they could appear in search results.

When seeking information related to your competitors, the hardest part is not finding the information; it is sifting through to get to the real data. A review, for example, could be written by an affiliate, a disgruntled customer, a pay-for-post blogger, or perhaps even an employee.  Of course, don’t be surprised if you come across data that appears to be wrong. Smart business owners are trying to foil competitors by placing misinformation in certain areas – misleading keywords in meta tags is an obvious one.

Is it wrong to collect competitive intelligence? Businesses have been doing it for thousands of years – the Internet has just made it easier. Besides, if you’re a strong competitor, you can bet they are looking over your shoulder right now! Privacy – you’re online – what privacy?

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