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Bloomberg has blocked its journalists from eavesdropping on users of its financial data terminals after it emerged that reporters were obtaining stories through their snooping.

Financial services firms, including merchant banks, pay about $20,000 a year to rent each Bloomberg terminal. Thousands of traders in stock exchanges around the world use the terminals to obtain real-time data from multiple financial markets, as well as access to news and instant messaging features.

CNN reports that a Bloomberg reporter asked a Goldman executive if a partner at the bank had recently left, after noting that the partner hadn’t logged into his Bloomberg terminal in some time. Goldman insiders later discovered that journalists at Bloomberg could access login records for Bloomberg’s proprietary terminals, as well as seeing how many times individual users had used particular functions.

Surreptitious access to the terminals had been possible for years, as a hangover from the 1990s when Bloomberg's reporters also formed part of its sales operation.

Bloomberg, which is playing down the scope of access, has responded by blocking its reporters from any access to customer data: arguably implementing controls that ought to have been applied in the first place.

“Limited customer relationship data has long been available to our journalists, and has never included clients’ security-level data, position data, trading data or messages,” Bloomberg spokesman Ty Trippet told the NY Post.

“In light of [Goldman’s] concern as well as a general heightened sensitivity to data access, we decided to disable journalist access to this customer relationship information for all clients,” he noted.

Bloomberg reporters’ ability to access subscriber information was a legacy of a period when journalists played a role in the firm's sales efforts back in the 90s.

It's unclear how often financial journalists made use of the surreptitious access but Business Insider reports that the facility was used on JPMorgan Chase during the 'London Whale' disaster last year.

The merchant bank lost more than $6bn essentially gambling on what turned out to be bad derivatives bets. Weak internal controls and poor risk management practices for allowing the London office to stake a fortune on credit default swaps positions that went pear-shaped.

Bloomberg subsequently published its story, marginally ahead of the Wall Street Journal. The newswire later moaned that the WSJ had failed to credit it in its own reports. ®

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