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Big corporate espionage cases and allegations

Our April 2011 issue, out in a few days time, has a briefing on the risks of corporate spying, and how to gather intelligence ethically.

Here’s an excerpt from it, a time line of some of significant spying moments and cases:

2011: French carmaker Renault suspends three senior executive for allegedly leaking trade secrets related to the company’s electric car project in partnership with Nissan. The case was subsequently dropped.

2010: Greenpeace files a lawsuit in the US accusing Dow Chemical, Sasol and others of spying and stealing information.

2010: Google says its China operations were hacked to steal intellectual property and email information of human rights activists. The hacking operation is suspected to have targeted at least 20 other multinational companies
operating in China.

2010: US firm CyberSitter accuses the Chinese government of stealing its anti-pornography software and using it in Green Dam, a government-led programme for installing censoring filter in all personal computers in China.

2009: Retailer Sears is accused of spying on online customers, but settles the case with the US Federal Trade Commission.

2009: Starwood, a US hospitality company, accuses competitor Hilton of stealing corporate information including brand concepts when Hilton hires 10 executives from Starwood.

2009: Personal details of thousands of customers of T-Mobile in the UK are stolen and sold to a rival.

2009: Shanghai police arrest three Rio Tinto employees in China for allegedly obtaining state secrets that included data on China’s steel industry.

2007: Wal-Mart apologises to the New York Times after being accused of recording the conversations between a Times journalist and Wal-Mart employees. The company fires the technician who taped the conversation.

The fired employee goes public telling the Wall Street Journal that the company used large surveillance system to spy on critics, board directors, stockholders and even on consulting firm McKinsey.

2007: McLaren-Mercedes Formula One team is disqualified from the F1 constructors’ championship and fined $100m for possessing secret technical information about the rival Ferrari team’s cars.

2006: US customs officers detain a former Chinese employee of Motorola at the airport before she boards a plane to Beijing and discover more than 1,000 confidential documents allegedly stolen from Motorola. The employee is
also a co-defendant with China’s telecom equipment giant Huawei in a separate civil lawsuit brought by Motorola.

2001: Procter & Gamble voluntarily admit that its agents had engaged in espionage against Unilever to gather information on Unilever’s hair-care business in the US.

In a settlement, P&G return stolen documents, reportedly pay $10m to Unilever in compensation, and promise not to use the gathered information to its advantage.

1993: General Motors’ German division Opel accuses Volkswagen of espionage when eight executives leave to join Volkswagen. Volkswagen eventually agrees to pay $100m to GM in settlement and buy car parts worth $1bn from the company over seven years.

1991: Air France is accused of helping the French secret service gather corporate secrets by installing microphones in planes’ seats.

1950s: Operation Brunnhilde was an industrial espionage operation allegedly directed by the former East Germany’s ministry for state security. Suspected spoils include information about supersonic jet Concorde’s electronics system

You can get the briefing if you subscribe. Quote “blog” for £100 discount on full-price subscriptions.

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