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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?