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This Just In: Everybody's Spying on Everybody Else

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The Bloomberg data privacy scandal is small compared to the issues consumer sites, like Facebook, are facing.

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You've probably already seen the apology from Bloomberg News regarding the now-infamous "nanny-cam" scandal, in which its reporters were caught trolling client data on the company's terminals for story ideas. But we feel the company statement is incomplete, so we'd like to fill in a few of the gaps for you.

Here, in part, is what Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief Mathew Winkler wrote:
"We apologize for our error as it does not reflect on our culture or our heritage. And we will strive to continue to uphold the highest standards while adhering to the best practices in the industry as long as we may be fortunate to serve our customers as they would have us serve them."

This apology should have continued as follows:

Just kidding. Of course we've been spying on you. Everybody's spying on everybody. That's the beauty of the Internet, baby. It goes both ways.

Mind you, we stopped short of anything that could get anybody thrown into jail. We don't pay our reporters enough to take that risk.

No. We grabbed just enough data from our clients' sessions on Bloomberg's proprietary terminals to help us put two and two together, like good reporters are supposed to do.

After all, our client list is a Who's Who of global finance: Every hedge fund manager and investment banker, plus all the policymakers like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The opportunity was irresistible! And face it, these people were hardly going to tell us straight out what they're up to.

But you want to know what really burns us up? Did you see who broke this story? The New York Post. Yes, that would be the tabloid owned by News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS), aka Rupert Murdoch, also owner of the Wall Street Journal and our competitor, Dow Jones News.

You can still see the smoke from London over the revelations that News Corp.'s British tabloids had been systematically spying on citizens, elected officials, and even royalty. They tapped the cell phone messages of a missing child. They listened in on an heir to the throne. It went on and on.

Next to those guys, we're amateurs. So now they're jumping all over us. The New York Post intones: "While Bloomberg doesn't appear to have crossed a legal line, its actions were widely viewed as a major breach of privacy." And columnist Terry Keenan quotes an unnamed hedge fund manager: "Imagine the amount of information that could be gleaned by monitoring the searches and key strokes at the mergers and acquisitions departments of the major Wall Street firms. It makes me very queasy." Inevitably, another anonymous trader calls it "Orwellian."

You want trouble over data privacy, take a look at what the consumer-oriented websites are up against. Here are a few examples, from just the last couple of days:
  • PC Magazine advises consumers to check their Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) privacy settings often, since they notoriously get "updated" frequently. With the powerful new Graph Search function about to be made widely available, Mashable and others are offering "pro tips" for avoiding "Facebook creepers."
  • In a new ad campaign, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) touts its own sensitivity to Internet privacy concerns. The latest version of Internet Explorer asks users if they want to enable a "do-not-track" option that reveals less information about their Web use to potential advertisers. Users of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome need to initiate the change in default settings to get that option. The Kansas City Star notes that Microsoft does not overtly say, this time, that Google users are being "scroogled."
  • Lobbyists and other representatives of the biggest Internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), are currently in Berlin to express their concerns over strict new privacy protections being considered for all of Europe-over a half billion users. The regulations would ban a wide range of now-standard practices used to target advertising based on users' online activities, unless the user has given explicit prior consent to the practices.
  • A new piece of "malware" aimed directly at Facebook users has been detected. If downloaded to a computer that is logged into Facebook, the malware can "like" a page, post, join a group, or chat with a user's friends under the user's name.
Like I said, you think we got troubles? Here at Bloomberg LP, we can only hope it all blows over. Anyway, what are they going to do, unplug their Bloomberg terminals?

I don't think so.

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