Competitive Intelligence

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Dumpster Diving (Trash Archaeology, Garbology etc.) and CI

Am I alone now in viewing dumpster diving as an unethical practice for CI.

I know that technically it is legal - if the trash being checked is off the target's premises and so is genuinely discarded. Conversely, CI got a terrible reputation only a few years ago, when a leading CI consultant was working for P&G who engaged in the practice. He was fired, as were the CI people within P&G who hired him. It's still used as a case study on what NOT to do (see: ). If you do a search on "P&G" "Dumpster Diving" the first results I found relate to misconduct, corporate espionage and the like rather than legitimate CI.

The reason I'm raising this is the recent item in the SCIP newsroom

Competitive intelligence: the art of garbology

This points to a link in Inc magazine:

The article essentially talks about how to check the trash for intelligence. My objection is that it quotes Richard Horowitz as a SCIP spokesperson as apparently approving of the practice. The fact it is also being circulated without comment (i.e. indicating approval) by SCIP disturbs me. Shouldn't SCIP be pushing for the highest ethical standards - not the lowest, borderline standards. For me, it's important that CI is NOT seen as a synonym for corporate espionage, and stories such as this just support a view that this is exactly what it is.


Arthur Weiss
Marketing Intelligence for Business Growth
Twitter: ArthurWeiss
International Tel: +44 20 8954 9121 Fax: +44 20 8954 2102

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Thank you very much Arthur for bringing this issue to the table.


You are not alone! That is for sure. That is a fact. I have used and keep using the same P&G case with my students, over 500 by now, as an example on how STUPID these activities are, and of course how unethical, and in some regions/countries illegal as well.


I would really like to read/'listen' what kind of explanation SCIP might have to consider worthwhile 'linking' such 'article'.


My first impression would be to say that one of two things may have happen:


1)      SCIP did not properly review the content of the article – arguable given the short summary it states associated with the ‘link’

2)      SCIP is, to say the least, ‘confused’ on what articles should promote


In any case, as I view it, the damage is done.


Let us wait to see if there is any comment from SCIP.

My real problem is not just the newsroom link that could be explained away as something that is automated, but the actual Inc article that includes the following in its first paragraph: "...according to Richard Horowitz, a lawyer who works with Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, an industry group...".

If Richard Horowitz does NOT represent SCIP then a formal statement should be made that members should not claim to represent the organisation and this should be publicised in Inc. Also Richard should get (minimally) a slap on the wrist for giving the impression that he is a spokesperson. If he is a spokesperson for SCIP or a lawyer who represents them sometimes, then it implies that SCIP does support such activities now. (They never used to... )
I understand your point.

Just reinforces the need for a clarification/explanation from SCIP and another one from Richard Horowitz.

With those I believe we will be able to further comment on this topic.
Please be advised that Richard Horowitz is neither a member of the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals society (SCIP) nor a representative of SCIP -- his views are his own.

Bonnie - thanks for this. 

The first sentence of the INC article states:

It's a dirty business, but searching a rival's trash is generally legal—as long as it does not involve trespassing on private property or taking the bags before they hit the curb, according to Richard Horowitz, a lawyer who works with Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, an industry group."


If Horowitz is not a member of SCIP and does not represent SCIP then he is seriously misrepresenting his role and behaving highly unethically to claim that he speaks for SCIP. This brings SCIP into disrepute - and CI practitioners have worked long and hard to emphasise that CI is not the same as espionage and that it is ethical.  It's possible that he was misquoted. However he's been in the business for long enough to know to ask for a pre-publication view on what was going to be written. I'm not sure what the US laws are for claiming to act for an organisation when you have no connection but I'm sure that some form of libel judgement could be sought. 

I hope that SCIP will be contacting Inc to stress the official position (I'm assuming that this hasn't changed and that dumpster diving is still viewed as ethically suspect). Also to highlight that Richard Horowitz is not a member or a spokesperson and ask for this to be added to the article online and corrected in the next print edition. 

Also, I'm assuming that the link from the SCIP newsroom page was added as an automated feed. Maybe you should try to check such feeds before they get publicised - as this makes it look as though SCIP approves of the article. 



Hi fellow CI NING members,


This is just absolutely and utterly, appalling. So, yes one has to wonder what Horowitz's real affiliation with SCIP  happens to be. I hear Bonnie stipulating in no uncertain terms that he is neither a member nor a representative of SCIP, but a bigger question remains- Does he actively provide legal counsel say on an outsourcing basis to SCIP which is what most people would take away from his usage of the active tense ? If so, I would think SCIP might want to seriously consider seeking different counsel that can look at this issue from a broader and considerably more enlightened, perspective than strict technical legality. While this behavior may  not breach various laws, for heaven's sake it isnt necessary if a firm employs a systematic approach to CI over time rather than a short term emphasis, drag and drop approach- which is what SCIP should be educating folks about- (ie how CI should really be practised) which would then relegate the usage of this tactic to the dustbin where it belongs as a worst in class practice. (Pun intended)

Perhaps this is just what we get given SCIP is now under the domain of a MR firm (MR and CI being very different animals with differing skill sets and deliverables that work in different ways and answer different questions), and the new heads of SCIP don't get it, and SCIP wonders why so many long term, savvy and successful CI  practioners cancelled their memberships? I frankly want no affilaiton with SCIP and this just solidifies my position on the matter further.

I mean really, this is posted on the SCIP website, begging the further question of HOW did it get there? I would think SCIP would want this off their site immediately. Suffice it to say, what an embarrassment for them.




Richard Horowitz does not actively or otherwise provide legal counsel on an outsourcing or any other basis to SCIP. His views are his own.
Hi Bonnie,

On his home site Richard says: "He is also the author of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professional's (SCIP) Policy Analysis on Competitive Intelligence and the Economic Espionage Act, has advised SCIP on the revision of its Code of Ethics, and is on the faculty of the Fuld Gilad Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence where he lectures on the legal aspects of competitive intelligence".

If the man is lying about his involvement with SCIP I guess there will be further reactions from your/SCIP side. As it stands it does not look very flattering.

Best, Klaus
I could not help noticing that Richard thinks it is OK/ethical to pose as student at trade shows: "Whi l e aga ins t mos t corpor a t e ethical policies, claiming to be a s tudent will in itself not trigger liability. I t
is not mi s r epr e s ent a t ion alone tha t triggers liability, but a misrepresentation tha t induces a br e a ch of
confidentiality. Whi l e the r e is room for a de epe r analysis of this matter, the issue is in actuality not
dr ama t i c ; claims of being a s tudent do not produc e answe r s cont a ining t r ade secrets. ".

I do not know about US practices here, but in Europe posing as a student/under false flag would be considered unethical by most.

I dont know but searching ethical advice in business by an ex. Israeli Army officer may not always be a good idea, even though I am sure he is a good lawyer (and a member of this forum too).


Richard's prior involvement as an Israeli Army officer should have taught him the importance of ethical and moral conduct. It's one thing drummed into Israeli Army officers that they need to be as moral as feasible taking into account their role. Of course there are aberrations - but these get dealt with via the legal system. So again, being able to tell the difference between what is moral and ethical is crucial.

Further, if we go the route of what people did prior to getting into CI, there are many who were involved in national intelligence / defense in one way or another - especially in the US CI community. (It's much rarer in Europe, where most people in CI came from a business background from my experience).

The key thing is to separate national intelligence experience from business intelligence norms. They are different - and if this aspect is blurred then you are going to get ethical problems. What is acceptable for national intelligence will often be highly unethical or illegal for business intelligence.

Perhaps that is now the problem - that this blurring of what is ethical has got to the stage where some people can't see the wood for the trees.

I agree with you here. Unfortunately I think that what is causing the major problem is that state INT people take with them their state INT ethics and try to apply it in business, where it is quickly deemed too agressive. 


It raises the question, what value do state INT people bring with them? I do not think it is analysis. In Sweden state INT come to us in the Social Sciences to learn analysis. It is not the technology either. Most of that is developed by privat firms, on our campuses etc. I think it is more a training in seperating nice to know from need to know and of treating information gathering from an all-source perspective. I also think it at least used to be a training in HUMINT that our market research people did not have and a training in speculatitive thinking and what-if scenarios. What do you think?


Easter greetings,



I agree totally on this. National intelligence people are trained in the arts of HUMINT plus intelligence approaches / definition. Think about the KIT concept - originating from Jan Herring, who came from the national intelligence community. The rigour and some of the models (e.g. the intelligence cycle) also came from national intelligence. That's not to say that such ideas wouldn't have come from marketers - they just didn't get there first.

Many years ago, I was speaking to a successful (and well known) CI consultant who came from a military intelligence background. He told me that he'd noticed that many of his colleagues failed when they tried to enter the commercial intelligence world for two main reasons:
1) budgets - generally speaking national intelligence people, unless at a very very senior level, don't have to set budgets or even work towards highly constrained budgets. This proved a problem for them.
2) ethics - national intelligence people found it very difficult to restrict and limit their approaches due to ethical constraints. When you are used to considerable freedom in what you do, it is very difficult to stop practices that were quite acceptable previously. If you do, it's also harder to be as efficient as you aren't used to working under such limitations. (I guess it would be like comparing a disabled athlete with a regular one. When you are used to working with a disability, you don't find it a problem and can actually excel. However switching from one to the other is going to cause problems, and is likely to mean that you fail to reach your previous heights).


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