May 13, 2013

"In Bloomberg America, Bloomberg Terminals watch YOU"

Yakov Smirnoff
From the New York Times:
Bloomberg Admits Terminal Snooping 
Reporters at Bloomberg News were trained to use a function on the company’s financial data terminals that allowed them to view subscribers’ contact information and, in some cases, monitor login activity in order to advance news coverage, more than half a dozen former employees said.
More than 315,000 Bloomberg subscribers worldwide use the terminals for instant market news, trading information and communication. Reporters at Bloomberg News, a separate division from the terminal business, were nonetheless told to use the terminals to get an edge in the competitive world of financial journalism where every second counts, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the company’s strict nondisclosure agreements. 
The company acknowledged that at least one reporter had gained access to information on Goldman Sachs after the bank complained to the company last month. On Sunday, Ty Trippet, a Bloomberg spokesman, said that “reporters would not have been trained to improperly use any client data.” 
Matthew Winkler, editor in chief of Bloomberg News, underscored that the practice was at one time commonplace. 

Michael Bloomberg, crimefighting billionaire media mogul and mayor of Gotham New York City, is 7th on the Forbes 400 with a net worth of $27 billion. It's usually said that he made his money by renting old-fashioned timesharing terminals to Wall Street for vast monthly sums.

I'd often wondered why Wall Street relied upon an extremely centralized, extremely expensive, and otherwise obsolete computer technology. It's been explained to me that Bloomberg Terminals were so expensive that having your firm rent you one was a sign that you are a BSD, and what real man on Wall Street would allow the symbolic castration of having his Bloomberg Terminal replaced with a Mac or PC?

But this story of how lowly Bloomberg reporters had been trained on how to spy on Bloomberg Terminal clients like Goldman Sachs opens up an entirely different line of thought about how Mayor Bloomberg has continued to prosper.

On reflection, though, perish the thought. Forget I ever said this. Obviously, Bloomberg's organized snooping on its clients' inside info was utterly 100% restricted to pixel-stained wretches on the news side of the Bloomberg company. None of the Big Money Boys on the Terminals side of Bloomberg would ever have dreamed of doing such a thing.


Charlie W. said...

Not that it invalidates your larger point, but Bloomberg is just a software program these days which runs directly from your computer. No one uses a dedicated Bloomberg terminal anymore.

Chief Seattle said...

This is P.R. nightmare for Bloomberg News. If mere journalists have access to login information and who viewed what story, imagine what important people get. It's a real wakeup call for bank IT and the potential costs of outsourcing.

But Bloomberg has some important network effects too, like being able to easily message or call other bloomberg users. Yes, other systems can do this, but Bloomberg makes it painless.

Using google is no different. If you log in to use one of their services like blogger or mail or youtube then they know when you visit any other site that uses google analytics. If you want your browsing to be even semi-private then use one browser for your logged-in accounts and another, with cookies limited or turned off, for other random web browsing.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Nixon was an amateur.

Anonymous said...


Kibernetika said...

Smirnov is not an ethnic Russian, BTW, although he is a good comic ;)

In the Soviet Union, his passport likely identified him as being Jewish.

Anonymous said...

"No one uses a dedicated Bloomberg terminal anymore."

I see Bloomberg terminals at work. I don't deal with them myself, but I do sit across from a couple of people who do. The terminals look fancy. Plus, there are little strips on the keyboards where users put their thumbs to validate their identities. I'm assuming that the licenses are sold on a per-user basis and that thumbprint technology helps Bloomy fight against paid-up users sharing passwords with free-riders.

If anyone knows why these terminals are so expensive, I'd love to hear an explanation.

All I know is that they're used to look up bond prices. Why aren't bond prices free public info? Why is this info so expensive? Does Bloomy have a monopolistic control over this price information? If so, how did he get it?

wren said...

This Bloomberg thing may be small potatoes in comparison to Holder's spying on AP reporters.

It seems like they are releasing info about scandals just to hide other scandals or something.

Kibernetika said...

An aside: If anyone wonders about this, it's merely a fact (that Jews were identified as a distinct group in the Soviet Union). As a naive, average New York-born American learning about the Soviet Union during the Cold War, discovering this was rather surprising. Nevertheless it is fact. And facts are good things. Apologies to those who didn't need this history :)

Just telling the truth.

bluto said...

Bloomberg terminals are expensive because they collect basically all market information in a single easy to find place. If you can think of some bit of financial data, Bloomberg probably has information on it. The thumb reader is used for trading verification, accounts are free and unlimited, the fee is per terminal.

Also, they handhold even the most basic users with ritzy free training, and their help desk was unlike any I've ever used.

Anonymous said...

Plus, there are little strips on the keyboards where users put their thumbs to validate their identities.

That's not really a sophisticated feature. You can get $500 laptops with fingerprint identity readers.

Anonymous said...

"An aside: If anyone wonders about this, it's merely a fact (that Jews were identified as a distinct group in the Soviet Union)."

All Soviet citizens had their ethnicity listed in their passports, not just Jews. When a citizen reached the age of 16, he was issued a passport. The system was built on self-identification. Officially you were who you said you were. At least after WWII the general pattern was the opposite of flight-from-white, i.e. flight-towards-white, especially among people of mixed backgrounds. In other words, a lot of people who put "Russian" in their passports weren't in fact very Russian.

Religion was not listed in Soviet passports.

Anonymous said...

"Bloomberg terminals are expensive because they collect basically all market information in a single easy to find place."

But surely that can be done cheaper than what Bloomberg is charging. Does Bloomberg LP have competitors?

Anonymous said...

If anyone knows why these terminals are so expensive, I'd love to hear an explanation.

It's the keyboard. The keyboard has extra hot keys for bonds, stocks, indexes, etc.:

"Crucially, the Bloomberg keyboard includes a unique MENU key, which serves a similar function to the "back" button in an internet browser.

The yellow hot keys along the top of the keyboard are used to enter market sectors, and must be used to allow the terminal to correctly identify a security.

GOVT - government securities (US treasury and non-US)
CORP - corporate debt
MTGE - mortgage securities
M-Mkt - money market
MUNI - municipal debt
PFD - preferred shares
EQUITY - equity shares
COMDTY - commodity markets
INDEX - indexes
CURNCY - currency markets"

Pollo Asado said...

Off-topic, but: I was trying Bing Gaydar out on Tom Cruise and not getting any pings. It does still work for Jeremy Renner, though. Maybe Cruise threatened to sue Bing or something?

Anonymous said...

The conquistador-americans are coming out of the woodwark... there seems to be a lot of blond-haired blue eyed white guys angry with Richwine.

RNC FL Hispanic Director is Now a Democrat

BTW, he say's he "Puerto Rican"... and that his grandfather served in the segregated 65th Infantry Regiment.

But here's the kicker... I'm pretty sure the 65th Infantry Regiment was segregated language wise from the rest of the army and there was segregation race wise with in regiment... and his grandfather probably was in a "white" unit. I'm pretty sure he's trying to purposely give off the wrong impression about his family past.

Fernando Berdion del Valle, also a Masters in Public Policy candidate, added, “I am a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. I am a son of two immigrants. I am Hispanic. And I am angry. I am angry that someone, despite many years of undergraduate and post-graduate education, would devote his dissertation to the idea that: ‘Immigrants living in the U.S. today do not have the same level of cognitive ability as natives.’

We need a "Blog about White-Hispanic Privilege Day" to raise awareness of "White-Hispanic Privilege"

There's no greater privilege than White-Hispanic privilege.

DR said...

Bloomberg's monopoly is the success of network externalities. Tons of markets trade through Bloomberg messenger. Particularly the highly lucrative fixed income OTC markets.

Bloomberg is essentially a necessity to trade many many different types of market. Even if you switch off it, all your counter parties are still using it.

The interesting question is why hasn't Bloomberg been subjected to anti-trust action? It should be the classic anti-trust case.

NOTA said...

Dear God, there is a wonderful SF story in there somewhere. Once, just as a civilization was reaching its information age, a particular group of people saw their opportunity and built special information terminals that only the very most rich and powerful people in the society could have, and got this terminal accepted as the marker of membership in the power elite of the planet. And then, control of what went on those terminals, and knowledge of who looked at what on them, turned out to be a source of almost unlimited power, and those terminals' makers became extremely powerful.

Steve Sailer said...

"Fernando Berdion del Valle" looks like the Austrian boyfriend of the eldest Von Trapp daughter who duets on "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" in "The Sound of Music."

Five Daarstens said...

It is strange that Wall Street relies so heavily on such a centralized retro technology. This kind of client server thing was big in the late 80's/90's. At the company I worked for in 1986-88, we used Quotrons and later something called a Schwartzatron. It is understandable how the Bloomberg machines replaced them way back when, but now I would have though a better and more secure solution would have come along.

Steve Sailer said...

Wasn't the Schwartzatron featured in "Space Balls?"

Anonymous said...

At the company I worked for in 1986-88, we used Quotrons and later something called a Schwartzatron.

LOL was that the real name for the thing? Sounds made up. Then again we do have Bloomberg terminals and back in the 80s there were Wang Computers.

Five Daarstens said...

Here is a NYT story from 1994 that talks about Quotron, interestingly they do not even mention Bloomberg as a competitor:

Fellow Traveler in Berkeley said...

There is gleeful rejoicing about this story on trading floors, hedge fund conference rooms, etc. People use Bloomberg because it's got excellent analytics, and very thorough news coverage (now we know how they do it!), and the messaging. People hate Bloomberg because of their pricing - a seat license has a fixed price, with volume discounts available only at the very large user base level. They will also charge you for an additional seat license if you start exporting more than your allotted amount of data (such as to populate a spreadsheet).

The price is non-negotiable and runs about $20,000 PER SEAT per year. Contracts run two years. No less. If your firm shuts down one month into a two year contract, you're on the hook for paying off the remaining year and 11 months. They do give you a 50% discount on the balance of your contract, in that case, but still.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"No one uses a dedicated Bloomberg terminal anymore"

There's a surprise, lol

Anonymous said...

Bloomberg has a ton of data, but so does its main competitor, Thomson Reuters. There are other regional players, but these two are the only true global, cross asset players.

There are two reasons for BB dominance over TR. First, its the network effect mentioned previously that comes from Bloomberg Messenger. Everyone uses it so everyone has to use it.

Second, TR has been a basket case since the Thomson/Reuters merger in 2008.

Interestingly TR is back on the offensive with a new platform. And it's leading an industry coalition to create a competitor to BB Messenger. This will interesting because, while it might seem difficult to do, the banks hate BB.

The reason that banks use BB is that its a universal platform. More broadly, the reason they use any of these terminal products is because it cheaper to use a third party (even at $20k a year) than to develop a system internally.

While Wall Street will spend money to get a competitive advantage (like in high speed trading), they very cautious about spending on non-revenue generating IT. As of 2006 (when I last worked on the trading desk at a top bulge bracket) trades for certain products were still being tracked using paper.