Firms Complain Bloomberg OK'd Reporters Tracking Subscribers

Giant financial data company Bloomberg is acknowledging that some of its subscribers were tracked by the company's reporters. The reporters were allowed to see what kind of information the subscribers were looking at and how long it had been since they logged on. The tracking came to light after Goldman Sachs Raised questions about the practice. Over the weekend, the Federal Reserve said it is looking into whether its employees were tracked as well.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning. Bloomberg is a behemoth on Wall Street. The company transmits financial information through its own network of computers. The terminals are found on the desks of financial insiders around the world. Bloomberg also has a news service covering the financial industry, and now there are questions about those dual roles. Bloomberg is acknowledging that people using their terminals were tracked by the company's journalists.

Reporters had access to subscribers' private information and were monitoring their login patterns. Goldman Sachs complained last month and now the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department are investigating whether their employees were tracked as well. Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Bloomberg has some 315,000 subscribers all over the world - traders, hedge fund managers, investment bankers, and government officials. And for many of them the Bloomberg terminal has become an indispensable source of information. Lawrence White is a professor of economics at NYU's Stern School of Business.

LAWRENCE WHITE: If you're in the financial markets it's a very useful piece of equipment. It has become yet more useful over time. It is ubiquitous.

ZARROLI: Bloomberg subscribers pay, on average, $20,000 a year for its services and in exchange they get copious amounts of real-time financial data - information about currency rates, stock and bond prices, and credit default swaps.

ZACH SEWARD: The promise of the Bloomberg terminal is fast and unlimited access to any information that could plausibly make you money.

ZARROLI: Zach Seward is senior editor at Quartz, a business news website. He says the information available to Bloomberg subscribers goes well beyond plain vanilla equity prices.

SEWARD: For instance, Bloomberg commissions a satellite to fly over the largest American oil reserves twice a week and they take a picture. That picture's available at your fingertips on the terminal.

ZARROLI: But Bloomberg, which was founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is also a news service aimed at the broader public. It employs some 2,400 broadcast, print and online journalists, many of whom are known for their aggressiveness. And that's where the conflict lies.

The company said, Friday, that reporters had been allowed to see certain kinds of very broad information about what subscribers were looking at. They could tell, for instance, that an investor was reading news stories or gathering data about stocks and bonds, but they couldn't tell which stories had been read or which stocks and bonds had been looked at. The notion that reporters had access to such information has raised some concerns on Wall Street. Again, Zach Seward.

SEWARD: In the financial world, there's intense secrecy over information like what sort of investments you might be researching. So even the suggestion that a reporter had access to even part of that information is what has people alarmed.

ZARROLI: Reporters were also allowed to see how long it had been since subscribers logged on to the service. That enabled them to speculate about the comings and goings of employees. A Bloomberg reporter in Hong Kong is said to have questioned Goldman Sachs about whether a partner still worked at the firm, noting that he hadn't logged on in a while.

Lawrence White of NYU's Stern School says there's something disturbing about that kind of reporting.

WHITE: It's creepy. It's not quite wiretapping but it feels like a first cousin to wiretapping.

ZARROLI: Bloomberg declined NPR's request for a comment. It wasn't just investors and fund managers who were tracked. Over the weekend the Federal Reserve said it was investigating whether its employees were monitored by Bloomberg reporters. Whether they were or not, Bloomberg's CEO is now acknowledging that it was a mistake to give reporters access to such information.

And the company, which is privately held, said it has pared back what reporters could see from now on. It has also appointed a compliance officer to make sure that reporters never have access to confidential information. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: