The Dallas Business Journal reports that Whole Foods is investigating a leak of proprietary information by the Federal Trade Commission regarding its pursuit of competitor Wild Oats. The FTC filed the documents electronically without redacting them properly, as part of its case to block the merger.
The documents were downloaded by the Associated Press before the files were replaced with the properly sanitized versions. More details from the AP story here, including a scheme to drive up costs at Wal-Mart and a discussion of Whole Foods' competitive position against Wild Oats.
However much you like reading the juicy details about someone else's business plan, no one wants to see that kind of information leaked about their own company. We don't know yet what the impact of the leak will be on Whole Foods, whose CEO, John Mackey, is under investigation by the SEC because he dissed Wild Oats in some pseudonymous blog postings.
It's tempting to point a finger at incompetent bureaucrats here, but this looks like a simple mistake. Court officials fixed the problem quickly. But IT organizations should take note and examine their own policies for protecting proprietary data. As my colleague Stephanie Overby writes in her recent piece on the global threat to intellectual property, most of the time when sensitive data leaks it's by mistake. And most of the time, it's because the data itself isn't protected.
What could you do to prevent an incident like this from happening to you?
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