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Ed Driscoll

A Culture of Spying at Bloomberg

June 14th, 2013 - 1:10 pm

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“You could see a map of every ship at sea that has cargo carrying orange juice,” on the Bloomberg computer system. “Or, someone would say ‘Check out UUID*. Ben Bernanke was logged on today.’” That’s from a new post by Matthew Sheffield of Newsbusters, who writes that, “While government spying on citizens has been a hot topic of conversation lately, it’s worth noting that such snooping can also happen in the private sector:”

The Bloomberg wire service, founded by anti-gun nut New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, has admitted that its reporters have been spying on customers of its business data service for years and using that information to generate news stories.

Through an established company policy, reporters for the news service were given exclusive access to private customer records for anyone they wanted to look up. Once they pulled up a user’s records, they had the ability to see that person’s last login date, his contact information, view her requests for technical support, and even see what types of data that the customer was calling up within the vast Bloomberg financial database.

After the practice was exposed in April by investment bank Goldman Sachs, the rest of the news media began poking around in the story, albeit only in the business pages. What has emerged is a portrait of a company where spying on customers and employees is basically genetic.

“We were told again and again and again, find ways to use what’s on the terminal to write stories,” an anonymous former Bloomberg employee told the New York Times, describing a function of the database they had access to call UUID. “They never said ‘Oh, please be careful and don’t breach any kind of privacy.’”

Since the spying was brought to light, Bloomberg News editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler apologized but tried to simply brush the scandal away in a blog post in which he announced that reporter access to customer data had been revoked.

* Last month, the Times explained more about UUID:

There are now more than 315,000 Bloomberg terminal subscribers worldwide who rely on the desktop computer for research, trading, communication and a constant stream of financial information and news.

But as it turned out, what the subscribers were doing was not always confidential. Bloomberg reporters used the “Z function” — a command using the letter Z and a company’s name — to view a list of subscribers at a firm. Then, a Bloomberg user could click on a subscriber’s name, which would take the user to a function called UUID. The UUID function then provided background on an individual subscriber, including contact information, when the subscriber had last logged on, chat information between subscribers and customer service representatives, and weekly statistics on how often they used a particular function. A company spokesman said both of those functions had been disabled in the newsroom.

Terminals never allowed journalists to see specific securities or trades, but even general hints of what users are searching could provide a glimpse into Wall Street’s thinking — powerful currency in the competitive world of financial journalism. Daniel L. Doctoroff, chief executive of Bloomberg L.P. and a close confidant to the company’s founder, Michael R. Bloomberg, said in a memo to employees that “client trust is our highest priority and the cornerstone of our business.” Mr. Bloomberg stepped away from day-to-day operations when he became mayor of New York City.

No wonder Michael Bloomberg has seemed to relish the role of Big Brother (and/or Big Nanny) as mayor; the company where he made his wealth appears modeled after 1984′s Ministry of Truth.

Oh and speaking of Orwellian subjects, “U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data With Thousands of Firms:”

Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. The role of private companies has come under intense scrutiny since his disclosure this month that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. residents’ telephone records and the computer communications of foreigners from Google Inc. and other Internet companies under court order.

Many of these same Internet and telecommunications companies voluntarily provide U.S. intelligence organizations with additional data, such as equipment specifications, that don’t involve private communications of their customers, the four people said.

Makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies and many other companies also participate in the government programs. In some cases, the information gathered may be used not just to defend the nation but to help infiltrate computers of its adversaries.

That report comes from…Bloomberg.com. At Hot Air, Ed Morissey adds:

This raises a number of interesting questions and concerns. First, are cooperating firms gaining competitive advantages against non-cooperating (and/or unaware) firms in the same market? That kind of distortion would corrupt markets in favor of snitching as a survival tactic, would it not? Second, are there political organizations that have this kind of friendly relationship with intelligence services that give them a competitive advantage? Two months ago, one might have laughed off such a suggestion, but after what took place at the IRS, it’s a little more difficult to dismiss.

The part about the Microsoft bug reporting is especially interesting in light of the Attkisson story today, too.

All of which dovetails with J.R. Dunn’s column today at PJM: “The Sheep Look Up,” on “The nightmare of political modernism:”

Involving as it does the NSA, it’s unlikely we will ever learn exactly who was behind this, who gave the orders, and what the precise purpose was. But in a way, that doesn’t matter. We know what the source is, and the rest we can guess.

In the late 18th century, Jeremy Bentham, progressive patriarch and founder of the doctrine of utilitarianism, came up the idea of the Panopticon, a prison built in an octagonal format in which the prisoners would be watched twenty-four hours a day from a central point. Bentham predicted all sorts of benefits from the Panopticon that don’t appear to spring logically from the idea.

He spent much of his later life attempting to interest the British and various local governments in building a Panoptican, without much in the way of success. But at the same time his ideas grew more grandiose, and he began picturing whole communities, perhaps even entire societies, based on the concept of total surveillance, with everyone watched constantly to assure they were acting according to plan.

So there’s nothing new about any of this. All that’s changed is the technology. Our modern Benthams think they have the answer in infotech, and the Internet. The old dream is almost within their grasp.

They are forgetting that every state in the West built on surveillance, from fascist Italy to Nazi Germany and the entire constellation of Marxist states, excepting only the cesspool that is Cuba, has been destroyed, and destroyed ignominiously.

And what about Obama, you ask? What about his role? Simply put: he sowed the wind.

Read the whole thing.

Related: “The IRS Sees Everything,” Steve Green writes, linking to a CNN report on the pervasiveness of the IRS’s data mining operations. Which, presumbably, the boys at Time-Warner-CNN-HBO view as a feature, not a bug. The rest of us? “You’re not paranoid. They really are watching everything,” Steve writes.

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And just wait until people get ahold of Google Glasses.
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