Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

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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What's odder - taking into account what Bonnie's saying is that Richard Horowitz is listed as a panelist at the forthcoming SCIP 2011 conference (11 May 2011 - 11.45 session. Town Hall #1 – Panel Discussion – Ethics: Everything is Old and is New).

Generally panelists at such discussions are invited - as they are seen as experts on the topic. It is odd that a non-member quoted with respect to a dubious practice is invited as a panelist on CI Ethics - unless his role is to be a devils advocate, and argue the case that ethical codes as generally viewed are too tight.

His description in the blurb on the session includes the following: "Mr. Horowitz authored SCIP’s Policy Analysis on Competitive Intelligence and the Economic Espionage Act, has advised SCIP on the revision of its Code of Ethics, and is a frequent speaker at SCIP conventions and chapter meetings on the legal and ethical aspects of CI." This implies that he IS seen as a SCIP spokesman and so I'm not sure what Bonnie means when she states that his views are his own and that he does not represent SCIP.

With regards to MR and CI being different animals, I'd actually expect an MR firm to be even firmer on ethics. Take a look at the ESOMAR code of ethics for example. Many of the practices that are standard for CI practitioners would be viewed as unethical for market researchers. MR depends on complete transparency and openness - and generally, the purpose of any research is declared up-front, which of course is not generally the case for CI research.
Well, I can imagine the PR situation at SCIP right now, not a comfortable situation to be be in. Accusations of lying, bad publicity, and what looks like a contradiction.

And all this because of a nosy guy like Arthur (:)E2E)...

Not really nosy. I just like to keep up with the new relating to CI.

Good CI, of course, means monitoring your industry on a continual basis. As my "industry" is the CI industry, I try and keep an eye on what is happening, what new techniques are up-and-coming and what are best practices.

Hi Arthur,


Dumptser Diving is illegal, without consent by owner. I realize there are grey zones here when the garbage is not on the person's property, but then it would be unethical in the great majority of cultures.

It has been a well know practice in Marketing and Marketing Research, as you know, for year and with consent I think it is not a problem. With consent it is a very powerful research tool, as we do not know/cannnot remember/answer falsely what we eat/buy when asked. Without consent from the person it has only been carried out systematically by the different state intelligence services, but then they have consent by their state authority . I think, as you indicate, that SCIP should not be assciated  with such practices and make that very clear. If I was running an organization/company and someone posed  in the media as related to that organization (true or not) saying such practices can be OK, I would persue the case further. Either way you turn it, as long as SCIP does not persue this, it simply looks like it has been sanctioned in the eyes of the great majority of Inc. readers.


Well spotted!



As far as I know, the key difference between garbage analysis for MR versus CI is that MR isn't looking at documents but at yoghurt, tinned tomatos, pizza boxes and milk cartons, etc. i.e when you go through somebody's garbage for MR the aim is to see what they are using and not what they are saying.

It's also always done with consent of the garbage owner.

On a national defense / intelligence level it will be looking at what is being said or written. However this is not CI but military / national intelligence. It's really important that this is seen as separate from business intelligence - and that the practices are kept separate.

If I was working for MI5/MI6/the CIA and was told to place telephone bugs / hidden cameras in the home of somebody suspected of planning a terrorist bomb attack I'd have no problems at all. Similarly I'd happily go through their garbage looking for clues. The aim is to save lives! This is completely different from business intelligence where the aim is to gain competitive advantage over a competitor.

It's an interesting question whether CI is more about looking for documents while as MR is more about looking at products/services. It also makes an interesting question for Marketing Intelligence. In my view it is more a question of the level and width we are operating at. CI handles the problem from a data/digit level and from an all-organization level. Intelligence does not distiguish from where the information comes from, if it is from products or documents, but if the information is truely useful, actionable. We also see that the marketing profession has been moving more towards documents and information with new technologies (CRM, faster computers, data mining etc), which again has paved the way for Market Intelligence.


Your second distinction I agree more with. State and Military Intelligence should be focused on saving lives if they want to defend their existence vis a vis tax payers. We see  these debates blush up in different countries when politicians want to use their intelligence apparatus to gain a Competitive Advantage. Agents will then say things like  "I do not want to die for GE" etc. The debate was also hot when Clinton used spies/eavesdroppeing in trade negotiations with ex. Japan. (see my dissertation).


Happy Easter!






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

 While it may be true that Horowitz is not actively providing counsel to SCIP, it is irrefutable that he did indeed help formulate the SCIP Code of Ethics  and that he had a hand in other policy related matters. See here regarding the COE, a series of emails between Horowitz and the Chairman of SCIP's Ethics Committee Carl Ward back in 1999 :

So, are you not aware of his history with SCIP and his involvement in the creation of the Code of Ethics? Wow, I mean here we have a man who assisted in the creation of the Code and who is publicly saying its OK to misrepresent oneself (see Klaus's posting) and also stipulating that digging through trash is OK legally- uh perhaps in some jurisdiction but not all, and what about ETHICALLY? Good God no wonder CI is having such a hard time as a profession and that SCIP is in such sad disrepute.


I'm with Klaus when he says "Well, I can imagine the PR situation at SCIP right now, not a comfortable situation to be be in. Accusations of lying, bad publicity, and what looks like a contradiction."

Well said, Klaus! Contradiction and bad publicity, indeed.


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