Collecting and storing information is part of the daily job of anyone working with intelligence. It’s essential therefore to know where to draw the line between what is ethically acceptable and what is plain illegal. It helps to think in shades of grey.
White information is any information that is available to any member of the public. It is published, shared and openly communicated to anyone. The internet is full of this kind of information:
- Corporate websites
- International, national and local press
- Public social media: blogs, public Facebook pages, twitter, instagram, YouTube, etc
Black information is not legally available to the general public. This kind of information is usually well-hidden on the internet, most often encrypted and / or password protected:
- My credit card details on Amazon or anyother e-retailer
- Facebook pages with high privacy setting
- Company specific intranets only accessible with a inhouse connection
The Shades of Grey
Apart from the obvious black and white information, there are then varying shades of grey. This is what is often referred to as the invisible web. This kind of information is available on the internet, but not easily accessible from a basic search engine, such as Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc. Some examples are:
- Newpapers and journals with a subscription, usually protected by a login and a password
- Information that is indexed in search engines embedded on other sites
- Blogs and forums not listed by the major search engines
What should I track?
This really depends on the objectives behind the CI project. These will help you to prioritise the type of sources you will need to follow.
If your aim is to monitor your online reputation, the best kind of information for you to track is the information that your consumers, staff and other stakeholders can easily find, as this is what will most influence their opinion of you. You’ll need to track openly available white information, such as Google search suggestions, the Tweetstream, blogs, company news feeds, etc.
On the other hand, some projects will have objectives that require a different type of source. If you would like to find out about your competitors’ future plans for launching new products, opening new plants or stores, then you’ll also need to include some grey matter. You would need to think about job postings, job hirings and patent registrations. This kind of information is often contained on search engines embedded in other sites (LinkedIn for example) or on specialised search engines. And of course, there is nothing to stop you from including the odd white source to help you get the information you need. For this example, the financial press would be useful to track for details on mergers and acquisitions.
And the black information? Best leave this to the likes of James Bond and Jack Bauer.