The digital cookie jar- ethics, liability, legality meet reputation

One of the things that sets my team apart is our ability to dig up remarkably obscure information and use our insight to connect it to other digital resources. Sometimes these resources connect to obvious online repositories (Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp), while at other times it connects to second and third tier data (home sales, political contributions, census data, employee lists.)

The most interesting part of our work is between the connection of digital information and real world information that has often been ignored for months, years or even decades. New strategic and tactical information allows us to redesign business models and locate areas of efficiency, risk and opportunity (sample connection points for digital and real world data include human resources, stock changes, executive communication, employee management, customer care, fulfillment, sales, etc.)

When we connect new sources of online data with real world data, our team forms a data cube (a fancy way of saying we combine the data into a tangible model.)

In all honesty, the data cube often looks like a Rubix cube (and while simple to solve for an expert, it often baffles the first time observer.)

This data cube often reveals areas of high-importance and allows us to refocus our efforts: often becoming a “digital cookie jar” that begs to have someone stick a hand in it.

Do you remember how it felt when your mother slapped your hand for reaching into the cookie jar?


Unfortunately many companies and professionals do stick a hand in before asking three basic questions below. The first one is really the point our parents tried teaching us, but the second and third are questions that we typically find the answer to as adults.

  1. Is it ethical? Just because the information exists, doesn’t mean it should be abused for monetary gain. If you wouldn’t want to disclose what you are doing to your family and friends, chances are that you have failed the basic “gut check” of being ethical. Don’t run into the jewelry store at midnight simply because you realize the door is unlocked… do the right thing and contact the owner.
  2. What are the liabilities? Think of this new digital treasure trove as Pandora’s Box. You may open the lid to find a vast fortune or you may invite yourself to the end of the world. If you believe the opportunities are valuable, chances are that many other people do to. Take the time to think through potential connection points that could affect you and the assets you cherish.
  3. Is it legal? This is perhaps the hardest question. If you have already answered “NO” to the question of being ethical, chances are it isn’t legal. In terms of using this digital information… you must always keep in mind that legal qualifications are often three to ten years behind the interactive world. The judge, jury and public opinion is going to rely on similar cases with precedence to determine legality, often revolving around the question “Is it ethical?”

I will be the first to admit that there are thousands of companies making massive amounts of money legally, but not ethically. While some big businesses have adopted the “if its legal, lets do it” mentality, the shift of consumer power caused by social media and online conversation has given the question “Is it ethical” entirely new risk. It is no longer necessary for consumers to win legal battles, merely engage in enough public battles that business becomes increasingly difficult.

SIMPLY SAID: When new business ventures skirt the question of being ethical, the public at large is given more virtual fuel for the virtual fire.

Only before addressing these three questions can you move forward using digital insight knowing that you understand the business opportunity and risk associated.