Quick Tip Tuesday: Company Extensions

If you do any kind of research on foreign companies, it’s imperative to know how the companies are structured. Canadian businesses fall into one of four categories — sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or cooperative — and corporations usually carry the designation Inc., Corp., or Ltd.

For foreign companies, there’s an array of other designations and extensions. This page provides a list of these extensions and explains what the terms mean and where they are used. The list also helps narrow your search if you don’t know what country a company is based in.

Quick Tip Tuesday: International Investigative Research

For international due diligence and investigative research, I’ve found Investigative Dashboard to be a wonderful resource:

Investigative Dashboard (ID) has been developed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the world’s leading cross border investigative reporting organization. OCCRP designed Investigative Dashboard as a transnational collaborative effort to help journalists and civil society researchers expose organized crime and corruption around the world. It hosts three core tools: a crowd-sourced database of information and documents on persons of interest and their business connections, a worldwide list of online databases and business registries, and a research desk where journalists can go for help in sourcing hard to find information.

The collection of business registries and related databases is terrifically useful.

Searching the Past

Internet ArchiveThe Internet Archive has received a lot of attention recently, and if you haven’t read this New Yorker article, I urge you to do so. If you’re not already in love with the Internet Archive, you will be after reading that piece, as well as this one titled “Never Trust a Corporation to Do a Library’s Job.”

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is an indispensable tool for historians, journalists, and investigative researchers of all types. One handy tool that I use often is Memento Time Travel, which provides point-in-time searches on the Wayback Machine as well as a number of other online archives. It is also available as a Firefox and Chrome add-on.

Another useful tool for searching things as they appeared in the past is the sliding time scale for Google Maps’ Street View images. Once you have your target address showing in Street View, notice that there’s an information box at the upper-left corner that shows the address, city, and date of the image you are looking at. Click on the date and you’ll get a slider showing all the available images for that address, which can date back several years. When you click on the image from a previous time, you’ll not only get the target address as it appeared then, but you can rotate the view and see the surrounding area.

Given Google’s tendency to constantly change its offerings, who knows how long this feature will last (and that’s why we need non-profit organizations like the Internet Archive!), but for now, it’s a unique and handy historical search tool.

Photo source: Beatrice Murch, Flickr

Quick Tip Tuesday: LinkedIn Activity

Ever wonder how you can see someone’s past activities on LinkedIn? While your connections’ posts and activities show up on your LI home page, when you visit someone’s page on LI, you see only their profile, not their “wall” of past posts, like on Facebook.

This is somewhat hidden on LI, but it is possible to find. When you visit someone’s profile, click on the little arrow next to “Send a message” and the first option is “View recent activity.” This will bring you to a page with the person’s recent posts, likes, and profile changes (if they’ve set their settings to publish updates about profile changes).

You can see someone’s activities from the past two weeks even if they’re not a connection.

LinkedIn activity

 

Introducing Quick Tip Tuesdays

In an effort to blog more often and share more of what I know, I’m starting a new series of posts called Quick Tip Tuesday. Every Tuesday I’ll share a new research resource, a nifty search methodology, or an important lesson gleaned from my years of experience as a researcher. Perhaps I’ll even include items that have helped me in running my professional or personal life.

If you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments or email me.

More Sources of Data and Statistics

StatsHere are a couple of additional sites to update my previous post on finding data and statistics on the open web.

Knoema draws socioeconomic data from a large number of government, non-profit, academic, and corporate sources — 500 sources, in fact. The sheer size of this site makes it an incredible source of information, from common to obscure. Data can be found by country, topic, or source, and it can be visualized and exported. You can also create a personalized profile to save and share your visualizations. For more information about the company and the site, take a look at this Guardian Datablog post.

Index Mundi is similar to Knoema, though smaller in the number of sources and databases it draws on. It presents country profiles and statistics in user-friendly formats like maps, charts, and tables and browsable categories.

Photo source: Simon Cunningham, Flickr

Tips and Tricks for Finding Email Addresses

At signFor a recent project I had to scour the Internet for email addresses of corporate executives. You’d think this would be a relatively easy task. After all, work email addresses are public information, and executives have assistants to sort through and filter their communication so they’re not inundated. But I quickly discovered that email addresses are precious, hidden gems to be excavated via advanced methods.

I found some direct contact information through Hoover’s and through running simple searches in Google, but not as many as I’d hoped, so I revved up the search. First, I ran a search in Google and Bing using the following syntaxes:

Google: “*@companyname.com” OR “email * * companyname.com”
Bing: email NEAR:2 companyname.com

This brought up a few email addresses so I could see the pattern for that organization’s email addresses. Often press releases have the direct email addresses of the marketing or PR team lead.

Once I ferreted out the pattern, I ran a Google search with that pattern using the target individual’s name, to see if it appeared anywhere legitimate. I also tested the validity of the email address at MailTester.com or VerifyEmailAddress.org.

Unfortunately this method isn’t foolproof, as executive email addresses don’t always follow the format for the rest of the company’s employees. (To learn about how executives hide their email addresses, see this article.) But I was able to get 90% of the addresses this way. For the other 10%, I called the company’s switchboard and turned on the charm. In a couple of cases, I had to try different methods on different days, but I finally got what I needed.

Finally, for public companies, don’t neglect public filings as a source. I found some of my targets’ contact information this way.

Do you have any tips for locating hard-to-find email addresses? Please share them in the comments.

UK Investigative Research Resources

FreePint, an excellent site for research and information management resources, news, and reviews, runs a regular feature called “My Favourite Tipples,” usually written by a practitioner with expertise in a particular research niche. The latest post is by Neil Smith, a UK investigative researcher, who identifies a few indispensable tools for open source intelligence research and backgrounding individuals. The post, as well as his website, are well worth taking a look at, especially for UK sources.

Photo Fakery and the Challenge of Verification

Another week, another fake photo making the rounds in social media and raising outrage and/or hilarity. This time it is a photo of a gold toilet said to have belonged to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Problem is, the photo has been around since at least 2012, and while the Ukrainian president may indeed be guilty of accumulating outrageous luxuries, there’s no evidence that the gold toilet belongs to him or anyone else in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, a number of Sochi Olympics photos went viral that were also fake or not attributable to Sochi. And you may remember this photo of the Egyptian pyramids blanketed with snow (for the first time in 112 years!) making the rounds in December.

pyramid-snow-grabjpeg-2929283

Pretty cool looking, but guess what? Fake.*

Hoaxes, rumours, misinformation, and fake stories and images have long found a welcoming home on the Internet, but with the rise of social media they get shared and disseminated even more quickly than before, sometimes by people who should know better. Sometimes verifying a piece of information is as simple as checking snopes.com or doing a Google search. Other times, however, it may take a bit more work to dig under the surface and confirm the veracity of a story or photo. This Storyful article is a good start for learning about some ways to verify images, such as checking the Exif data and cross-referencing with other sources like satellite images.

Storyful and a number of other news and non-governmental organizations such as the BBC and Amnesty International have released a free ebook called The Verification Handbook to help with identifying rumour and misinformation. While the book is geared toward verifying user-generated content in disaster and emergency situations, the tools and guidelines presented provide an excellent resource for all types of digital verification and investigations. And as the book’s editor Craig Silverman (of Regret the Errorstates, “We’re all media consumers and creators now. We can all be nodes in a network of truth or of falsehood. And we all, of course, want to have an accurate picture of what’s happening.” Learning how to judge the accuracy and credibility of information is one of the essential skills of the social media age.

For some great examples of how a skeptical and investigative mindset can be applied to photos and videos, watch this TED talk by Storyful’s former managing director:

*Fake and staged photos have a long history, going all the back to the early years of photography. For a fascinating story about how Errol Morris uncovered what may be the first faked photo, check out this Radiolab episode.
Photo source: Snopes.com