July 24, 2018
“[A co-founder of Zoox, a self-driving car “hopeful”] reached out to some of the biggest names in the field and told them he was making a documentary on the rise of self-driving cars. The plan was to mine these people for information and feel out potential partners…. [He says] ’In my defense I might have been making a documentary.’”
Legal? Yes. Ethical? No! Why? Let’s look at ethical standards in CI:
- SCIP’s Code of Ethics requires its members “[t]o accurately disclose all relevant information, including one’s identity and organization, prior to all interviews.” Never happened. Unless he said he “might” be making a documentary, instead of that he was.
- The Helicon Group “[n]ever employs questionable data collection activities. These are techniques, otherwise legal, which, if made public, might tend to embarrass Helicon’s reputation or that of a client.” What sort of reputation does this person and his firm have now?
Now, what should these “big names” have done to protect themselves from this individual as well as CI professionals seeking competitively sensitive data? Here are a couple of suggestions for them (and for others):
- Check out anyone seeking an interview. Is this person really who/what they say they are? In this case, he was a video producer. Maybe close enough to a documentary maker to skate by.
- Do the conditions look and sound right? In this case, the interviewer showed up with a “Canon and a bullshit microphone”. Does that look professional? Probably not.
- What is the interviewers approach? This one relied on flattery. Warning! No one is really that interested in what you are doing – except your competition.
- What kind of interview is being conducted? This one was two hours long – another warning! After a while, your defenses fall and you speak more freely.
- Also, it was conducted in a “grassy field”. Maybe it was sold as a good background for the video. But, it could have been a way to keep this person from his computer or other interruptions that might force him to reconsider “why am I still talking to this person and exactly what am I saying?”
 Ashlee Vance, “Hype Machine”, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 23, 2018, p. 53.