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Bloomberg: Through the Looking Glass

2013 May 13
by John Wallbillich

When reporters become the story, you have something worth reading about.

Late last week, multiple media sources revealed that Bloomberg news reporters had accessed information about customer usage of the Bloomberg financial terminal. The New York Times covers it this morning here; earlier reporting is summarized by Buzzfeed here.

One of the first Bloomberg customers to complain was Goldman Sachs; one assumes that this would get some attention from management at Bloomberg given their corporate use of the terminal.

Apparently a Bloomberg reporter contacted Goldman about the employment status of an employee, because the reporter noted that this employee hadn’t logged on to their terminal for some time.

Last Friday, Bloomberg CEO Daniel Doctoroff posted a first draft of an apology on the corporate blog:

A Bloomberg client recently raised a concern that Bloomberg News reporters had access to limited customer relationship management data through their use of the Bloomberg Terminal. Although we have long made limited customer relationship data available to our journalists, we realize this was a mistake.

Mistake? At least one important customer apparently saw it as something more.

Then early this morning, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, Matthew Winkler, published a slightly longer explanation, which included this:

The recent complaints go to practices that are almost as old as Bloomberg News. Since the 1990s, some reporters have used the terminal to obtain, as the Washington Post reported, “mundane” facts such as log-on information. There was good reason for this, as our reporters used to go to clients in the early days of the company and ask them what topics they wanted to see covered.

Mundane? What was possibly mundane in the 1990s is apparently different now.

Bloomberg News is really an awesome operation. Their iPhone app, with its integrated video and audio content, is way beyond what others offer right now in terms of global coverage and quality.

In-house counsel can watch this story to see what Bloomberg’s crisis management playbook says, and watch in play out in real time.

There may be more twists and turns to this story. One question some law firms and corporate legal departments may have is this: Did reporter access to selected customer use information extend to the Bloomberg Law product?

We are in the early stages of the digital era as far as privacy and appropriate data use are concerned. This is a really hard issue for lawyers since it has a technological nexus and is difficult to research and understand, let alone monitor in real time.

A common tactic in compliance training is to suggest front-line personnel imagine “reading about the company doing X on the front page of the New York Times” before doing it.

I guess that is no longer a hypothetical scenario for Bloomberg.

Here's looking at you, kid...

(Updated 2:05 pm EDT on 13 May 2013).

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