Bloomberg Reporters Had Full Access To Customer Usage Logs, Including Help Transcript Logs

from the privacy-policy dept

This one is fairly incredible. Bloomberg LP's main business is selling ridiculously expensive terminals to Wall Street/financial folks for tracking market information. While I understood why they were able to succeed early on, I've been shocked that the internet hasn't seriously disrupted their business over the past decade or so. However, the company also has a pretty big journalism business as well (even owning Business Week, which it bought for pennies a few years ago). Now it's coming out that the journalists at Bloomberg had all sorts of access to how customers use the terminals.

Until recently, all Bloomberg employees could access information about when and how terminals were used by any customer. But after complaints by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, Bloomberg says its 2,000 or so journalists no longer have access to that information, though other staff still do. Bloomberg has more than 15,000 employees.

The banks were concerned that Bloomberg News was keeping tabs on terminal usage in order to aid its reporting. JP Morgan specifically cited coverage of the bank’s disastrous derivatives trading, known as the “London Whale,” which Bloomberg was the first to reveal.

Incredibly, the reporters also had access to "help" transcripts of any customer and could call them at will, which apparently some of them did for fun.
Several former Bloomberg employees say colleagues would look up chat transcripts of famous customers, like Alan Greenspan, for amusement on slow workdays. The transcripts were typically mundane and hardly incriminating, but who wouldn’t enjoy watching a former US Treasury secretary struggle to use a computer? And, in theory, the substance of someone’s query to customer service could reveal specific information that he’s interested in, tipping off a reporter to a story.
These are the kinds of things that small companies sometimes screw up with poor controls over information. But a massive company like Bloomberg -- especially when it deals with critical financial information -- you would think would have much tighter controls on information. I'd be curious if this violates whatever privacy policies Bloomberg has with its customers. At the very least, it should make Bloomberg customers pretty damn skeptical of continuing to use their terminals. Seems like a huge opportunity for competitors with better controls to step in.

Filed Under: bloomberg terminals, controls, information, journalism, privacy, reporters
Companies: bloomberg, goldman sachs, jp morgan


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  1. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 13 May 2013 @ 7:09am

    Not exactly the whole point of the story, but happy to share what I know about the first bit.

    "Bloomberg LP's main business is selling ridiculously expensive terminals to Wall Street/financial folks for tracking market information. While I understood why they were able to succeed early on, I've been shocked that the internet hasn't seriously disrupted their business over the past decade or so."

    When I worked for IBM, I supported some very similar products made by Reuters (before and after they were bought by Thomson). If Bloomberg was anything like Reuters, it was speed, reliability and support. Similar reason that Red Hat has a viable business model even though Linux is free for anyone. It's not an exageration to say that millions or billions of dollars worth of trades depended on some of those systems, and the banks and trading firms spent a lot of money to make sure they were solid. Real time access to market data, not delayed by minutes like you get from some cheaper solutions. In some cases, we're talking multiply redundant systems with multiply redundant dedicated circuits (network connections). That kinda stuff gets tied into various high-frequency-trading systems. Fast support - in the case of some locations in NY, we could have techs and engineers onsite to a customer location within minutes if something bad enough happened, and a hour or two for even standard kind of issues.

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