The general counsel’s guide to open source information

In 2024, companies are expected to report on various topics, including environmental issues, worker treatment, anti-corruption measures, and supplier relationships

There’s nowhere to hide in today’s digital age from the scrutiny of their ESG performance. Especially when consumers have online access to open source information (OSI). 

Once used by investigative journalists, OSI is now accessible to everyone. But for companies themselves, ignoring its potential could jeopardise their ESG activities. Then there’s the risk of stakeholders uncovering information that puts a corporate’s reputation at risk.

In this guide, we’ll discuss OSI’s importance and how to access it with the help of AI tools.

Firstly, what is open source information?

Open source information can be divided into four typical categories:

Traditional media: National newspapers, print magazines, and television sources that offer readily accessible information to the public.

The internet: Blogs, news reports, discussion forums, and social media platforms all serve as valuable sources of open information, providing a wealth of insights into a company.

Public government data: Government reports, press conferences, and speeches offer insight into public affairs and policy-making, contributing to open source intelligence.

Professional and academic publications: Journals, academic papers, and theses containing specialised knowledge and research findings, further enrich the realm of open source intelligence.

What does OSI mean for general counsels?

Online data is surging. Every day, millions of blogs, records, reviews, and social media posts are published. Much of this is open source, meaning it’s available to anyone. But for general counsels, it’s about finding relevant information and extracting actionable insight.

Search engines are a good starting point, but they can get cluttered with ads, knowledge graphs, and snippets, making it tricky to find what you need. Plus, they might show biased results based on your past searches and preferences.

Furthermore, search engines return millions of results, including false positives. That’s why open-source information requires automation. Without it, you’re left with unrefined results that only provide a superficial overview, falling short of the in-depth due diligence required.

The power of informed stakeholders

Consumers, investors, board members, and employees pay a lot of attention to factors like ESG issues when they decide whether to support or work with a company. 

In fact, 83% of consumers believe companies should actively follow ESG best practices, and 86% of employees want to work for companies that care about the same things they do. Furthermore, 76% of consumers would stop doing business with companies that mistreat employees, communities, or the environment. 

These valuable insights are hidden in open source information. General counsels just need to uncover them to help their organisations understand and tailor their strategy based on these expectations. It offers a glimpse into what the public is saying about a company and can be used to actively protect and enhance its corporate reputation.

The limits of traditional third-party research

Conducting thorough due diligence on a company, especially one with a significant online presence, can take several days. Even businesses with a smaller online footprint require several hours to research, analyse, and condense the information into something usable for decision-making. This complexity increases when dealing with foreign languages.

Traditionally, due diligence on third parties involved keyword searches and checking individuals or entities against databases. This approach often provided simple, binary, yes-or-no answers, lacking the ability to capture the complexities of human behaviour. Another challenge was the constant updates to sanction lists and the fact that database search tools did not always keep up with real-time changes.

The alternative was to skip due diligence entirely, leaving organisations vulnerable to potential reputation damage and regulatory problems, which can be more expensive in the long run than the cost of research. But with AI, the investment is no longer substantial.

AI offers a solution

AI can search the entire indexed internet in minutes, providing a comprehensive understanding of third parties and the risks associated with them. 

It automates the entire process from initial search to summarising insights in a final report. It can analyse vast quantities of data from billions of web pages, recognising patterns and flagging risks that may be missed due to language barriers or time constraints.

This not only streamlines the research process but also enhances the ability to identify and mitigate risks efficiently, uphold regulatory compliance, and strengthen commitment to ethical practices.

How AI helps general counsels use OSI

Nuanced analysis

AI can process vast amounts of data and analyse it for intricate patterns of behaviour. It can identify not just the presence of certain keywords but also the context and sentiment surrounding them, offering a much more nuanced understanding.

Predictive insights

AI algorithms can detect trends and emerging risks by analysing historical data and real-time information. This enables organisations to be proactive in addressing potential challenges rather than reacting after an issue has already arisen.

Automation of research

AI automates the research process, drastically reducing the time and effort needed for collecting relevant data from open source information. This frees up valuable resources for more strategic tasks.

In-depth reporting

AI-powered tools can generate detailed and fully sourced reports in minutes. As it only searches the indexed internet, you know you haven’t crossed any privacy lines.

Real-time monitoring

AI can continuously monitor open source information, providing real-time updates on developments, ensuring that organisations stay ahead of issues.

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