Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Bloomberg Names Former IBM CEO Palmisano to Advise on Data Privacy

ibm_palmisanoHere’s an interesting development in the ongoing data-privacy imbroglio over at Bloomberg LP. The company just named former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano as an independent adviser with the task of reviewing and recommending changes on privacy and data policies.

The move is meant to regain the trust of Bloomberg’s terminal clients, like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. They’re understandably perturbed by revelations that reporters at Bloomberg News used a function that tracks how recently a client has logged in as a way of generating story leads about personnel changes.

Palmisano, Bloomberg said in a statement, will “immediately undertake a review of the company’s current practices and policies for client data and end user information, including a review of access issues recently raised by the company’s clients.” He’ll report directly to the company’s board of directors. Helping him will be the Hogan Lovells law firm and the Promontory Financial Group.

One wonders if part of the job will be to conduct a full audit of how many reporters used the controversial “Z function” to view client activity, how often it was used and what the result was, specifically if its use led to stories that were published. As I wrote earlier this week, that data probably exists, because Bloomberg has always been a big data company with a knack for keeping track of what its reporters do. And if there is an audit, will its results be publicly disclosed?

The function in question showed two bits of data that have made Bloomberg clients — essentially the who’s who of Wall Street and the financial industry in general — a little queasy. First, it reveals the last time a person logged in to his or her terminal. Reporters would sometimes use that to start asking questions about whether or not someone had left a given firm, and, if they had, write a story about it.

The other thing it was said to show is how often a client used a given function, though not in such granular detail that you could see what stocks or bonds were being researched. But again, it’s the sort of thing that might lead to questions that wouldn’t otherwise be asked, and eventually to stories that wouldn’t otherwise have been written.

Bloomberg also named its editor at large, Clark Hoyt, a former public editor at the New York Times, to review the relationship between Bloomberg’s commercial operations and its news operations.

(Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I should remind you that for about a year during 2009-2010, I was an employee of Bloomberg News after the company bought BusinessWeek magazine from the McGraw-Hill Companies and relaunched it as Bloomberg Businessweek.)

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald