Individuals looking to gather competitive intelligence have a new tool at their disposal: Company Profile pages on LinkedIn, which entered beta on March 20. The new feature, while useful to many, highlights the challenges of controlling the distribution of information about a company's inner-workings.
LinkedIn compiles company details, such as new hires, promotions, office locations, and career path information, by mining the data from LinkedIn users profiles. The auto-generated page offers an uncommon glimpse into the internal processes of the profiled company. The results are particularly impressive for small non-public organizations, because information about such entities is particularly challenging to obtain.
A LinkedIn Company Profile is a fertile ground for the individuals who gather competitive intelligence. Unfortunately, while some of them could be are pursuing generally-accepted business endeavours (e.g., sales prospecting, market analysis), others may have less-nefarious plans (e.g., corporate espionage, social engineering).
Examining a Sample Company Profile
Consider the following sample profile of a private company with less than 500 employees. I revised names, titles and other identifying details without altering the nature of the compiled information. The relevant excerpts from the sample profile are below; you can view the whole profile here.)
To experiment with Company Profile pages, locate an individual's profile on LinkedIn and click on the company name in his work history.
Controlling Data Dissemination
There is little companies can do to prevent such details from leaking into the open. One possibility is to attempt limiting which information employees may disclose information on social networking websites such as LinkedIn. Organizations may consider issuing guidelines that advise employees against including certain data in their profiles. Companies with more controlling cultures, such as some financial institutions, will be more likely to succeed at this.
LinkedIn has indicated that in the future companies may be able to customize their profiles, although it is unclear the extent to which the companies will control the details shown there. It is also unclear how LinkedIn will determine who will be authorized to act on the company's behalf when editing the profile.
LinkedIn allows individuals to remove themselves from Company Profile pages, but this comes at a cost. To be removed, the person also has to give up the ability to notify his connections of all personal profile changes.
I applaud the innovative manner in which LinkedIn now provides insights at inner-workings of companies large and small. However, it is unfortunate that LinkedIn released this feature without allowing companies and individuals to granularly control how they are being profiled.
Apr 2nd 2008
1 decade ago