Is Wikileaks Good for American Business?

The answer to the question in the title is patently obvious. It just depends on which side you fall.

The Wikileaks website has been in the news recently for its data dump of sensitive (if not all that secret) information from the U.S. government. Site founder Julian Assange has been unrelenting in exposing the government's inside dealings. Now, he's announced that Wikileaks has potentially embarrassing information on a big U.S. bank, which many sources say is Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) . Assange claims the new files are smaller than its recent Iraq leak, but could number into the thousands of documents.

So what's Assange's end game?

The Wikileaks site says that the organization's aim is to increase transparency. And in a recent interview with Forbes, Assange suggests that by exposing bad corporate behavior, he could aid ethical organizations to flourish, creating a "reputational tax on unethical companies." The Christian Science Monitor states that while Assange adheres to no economic or political ideology, he "is close to libertarianism in the American sense. He appears to be obsessed with rooting out institutional corruption."

Transparency has been a huge buzzword in the last 10 years, to be sure. And it's hard to argue against that goal, given no other constraints. Indeed, a focus on transparency has been a key strategy of Elizabeth Warren, who long campaigned for the creation of a consumer financial protection agency. Warren has taken on big banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , Citibank (NYSE: C  ) , and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) that earn tens of billions from fees, preying on the unwary with indecipherable and opaque contracts, she argues.

The sudden attention that Wikileaks has now achieved shows again the power of social media. And this social media poses risks to established organizations. Earlier this year, consumer-goods giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) had to stem the tide against bloggers and a Facebook group of concerned parents complaining about reformulated Pampers diapers. P&G invited some of the groups to its Cincinnati headquarters and explained the science and extensive testing of the new diapers.

But if Wikileaks is waging war on unethical companies, might that open up an era where ethically focused companies can thrive? Already, businesses such as Chipotle (NYSE: CMG  ) and Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) have created their cultures around specifically ethical values, embracing "conscious capitalism." And those companies have been huge winners over the last decade in large part because consumers know that they're helping to support something bigger than themselves.

So what do you think? Are Wikileaks and Assange a potential opportunity for American business, or are they simply a nuisance? By exposing the shenanigans of corporate America, can Wikileaks help consumers and voters make better choices?

Chipotle is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Whole Foods is a Stock Advisor pick. Chipotle is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection. Procter & Gamble is an Income Investor selection. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on Procter & Gamble. The Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Chipotle, and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Jim Royal, Ph.D., owns shares in Bank of America. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2010, at 2:25 PM, TMFKris wrote:

    I think any source of information about the companies in which you own shares can be helpful. But it depends on how the information is transmitted and who interprets it for the vast majority of shareholders without the time or inclination to read thousands of documents. And consumers of this info should realize it may contain only the splashiest details.

    A document dump via wikileaks would be one source of information, and I'm sure companies would hate not having control over the information. That could be good, if the information is accurate. It could also cost the companies (your companies) lots of money to do damage control.

    Kris - TMF copyeditor

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2010, at 7:00 PM, LemonMeister wrote:

    Wikileaks has been crawling websites for more data to back-up the corruption at KB Home Countrywide Mortgage. Yes it has the morons hard drive from the Bank. Was the guy from the Bank Drunk with Hookers? How else did the laptop go missing during a lap dance? We'll see very soon R.I.P. Countrywide. http://www.akbhomesucks.com visit the LIVE Radio show tonight http://www.blogtalkradio.com/kbhomesucks. It's all about white collar criminals at these corporations. Bruce Karatz and Angelo Mozilo!

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2010, at 8:42 PM, tobernator1000 wrote:

    I think WikiLeaks is the current leader in investigative journalism. It used to be that television and newspaper reporters would dig deep into a story to uncover the truth and expose necessary information to the public. Recently that practice has faded as the relationship between newscasters, business, and governments has grown closer, and most modern news is not much more than a mouthpiece for corporate or government propaganda. In that regard, I say good for WikiLeaks for bringing back accountability.

    On the other hand I think WikiLeaks, as the new journalists, has at least some responsibility in filtering what they say. If they only report the big juicy gossip they will be going the same way as current news, and will quickly have the same amount of credibility (which is almost none). I'm pretty sure nobody was surprised by the fact that US officials think Sarkozy is a stuffed shirt, and there wasn't really any value in publishing that. I also think it's important for them to protect specific information that would be useless to the public but dangerous to individuals, such as names and locations of undercover agents. Knowing that there are undercover agents is useful for us to judge our government, knowing who they are is not useful to us, and could get them killed.

    To sum up, I think WikiLeaks is doing something good and valuable, but it needs to be careful not to abuse its power.

  • Report this Comment On December 04, 2010, at 2:26 PM, TMFDavidRivers wrote:

    I'm still not sure what to think of WikiLeaks. As much as I espouse the purported aims of corporate transparency, I remain leery of Assange's motives. It's so hard to trust *anyone* with controversial information!

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2011, at 5:36 PM, mrCatfish wrote:

    I am 100% behind Wikileaks and welcome any and all light it can shed on what is obviously a very un-level, unethical playing field.

    I do believe WL has not yet disclosed any info in a negligent way, but obviously, they can not know the consequences of every single thing they bring to light.

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