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Automated News Crawling Evaporates $1.14B 546

Posted by kdawson
from the who-shall-watch-the-watchers dept.
cmd writes "The Wall Street Journal reports that Google News crawled an obscure reprint of an article from 2002 when United Airlines was on the brink of bankruptcy. United Airlines has since recovered but due to a missing dateline, Google News ran the story as today's news. The story was then picked up by other news aggregators and eventually headlined as a news flash on Bloomberg. This triggered automated trading programs to dump UAL, cratering the stock from $12 to $3 and evaporating 1.14 billion dollars (nearly United's total market cap today) in shareholder wealth. The stock recovered within the day to $10 and is now trading at $9.62, a market cap of $300M less than before Google ran the story." The article makes clear that Google's news bot only noticed the old story because it has been voted up in popularity on the site of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper. The original thought was that stock manipulation may have been behind the incident, but this suspicion seems to be fading.
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Automated News Crawling Evaporates $1.14B

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  • BEHOLD.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:11PM (#24951561) Homepage Journal

    ... the power of the GOOG!!

  • Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:12PM (#24951569)

    When you're talking about numbers like that then there is definitely a responsibility somewhere to try to prevent it happening again.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy (12016)

      How about outlawing automated trading programs?
      sounds like a solution to me.

      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Whatsisname (891214) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:41PM (#24952027) Homepage

        Why is outlawing them even remotely necessary? It is the responsibility of the investor to make sure their tools are functioning properly, and noone elses.

      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lgw (121541) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:41PM (#24952031) Journal

        "Program trading" only sometimes refers to anything automated. The name doesn't imply "computer program", merely a set of rules to be followed upon certain events. Computer automation adds little to the problem - people reacting to the news flash with orders to trade on such news will screw up just as badly, and almost as fast.

        Being the first to react to news has *always* been a way to make money in the stock market, and in todays world where news speads at internet speed, staying ahead of the public spread of fresh news requires acting before there's time to use any sort of judgement.

        If your not comfortable with this sort of crazy BS, investing in individual stocks is not for you. IMO, investing in individual stocks is a mistake for anyone tht doesn't do tht full time, and most who do (to judge by the track records of most indivdual money managers, hedge funds, and even mutual funds).

        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jstott (212041) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:50PM (#24952199)

          If your not comfortable with this sort of crazy BS, investing in individual stocks is not for you.

          That's not investing, that's gambling (aka speculation).

          -JS

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by lgw (121541)

            Plenty of people think they're investing in individual stocks: they research the company, buy stock, and hold it for many years. I agree with you: they're fooling themselves.

          • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by hugzz (712021) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @08:00PM (#24954927)

            That's not investing, that's gambling (aka speculation).

            All investment is gambling- some is just more risky than others. This doesn't make it a bad thing.

        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo (59147) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:57PM (#24952323)

          Investing SHORT TERM in individual stocks is a bad idea. Buying a reasonable stock and holding onto it long term isn't so dangerous.

          I do wish I'd heard about this sooner though. What a great opportunity to triple an investment.

        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Informative)

          by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:59PM (#24952357)

          If your not comfortable with this sort of crazy BS, investing in individual stocks is not for you.

          Oh, I disagree; you can invest in individual stocks without the crazy BS, as long as you don't attempt to day-trade (that is, to make short-term profits by timing the market).

          Even a huge price fluctuation like this barely registers with me, because I only look at my stocks' performance about once a quarter. (If that.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TooMuchToDo (882796)
          Our small group of friends trade commodities programmatically using algorithms we've developed over the last 5 years. We ignore fundamentals and focus specifically on technical data. Suffice it to say none of us worry about our day jobs too much anymore.
      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by homer_s (799572) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:44PM (#24952081)
        How about outlawing automated trading programs? sounds like a solution to me.

        How about letting stupid people lose money? Sounds like a better solution to me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by houstonbofh (602064)

          How about outlawing automated trading programs? sounds like a solution to me. How about letting stupid people lose money? Sounds like a better solution to me.

          As long as we make sure than when the stupid people loose money, the government doesn't replace it. This might be too drastic for government these days.

        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Chatterton (228704) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @05:08PM (#24952517) Homepage

          Yep only if these stupid people are not these who manage your pension fund ? Because they are of these who use this kind of software...

        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Informative)

          by mattack2 (1165421) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @06:29PM (#24953889)

          Unfortunately, we're not letting that happen... That's why the government is bailing out Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac.

          • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by TheLink (130905) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @12:04AM (#24957309) Journal

            Whose money they are using to bail it out?

            Who voted Bush in twice?

            Stupid people losing money ;).

            Anyway, they have to try to bail it out to prevent other stuff from blowing up. It is actually not such a bad idea (of course it'll be good for me if they didn't - since I'm waiting for a "Big Sale" on the entire stockmarket).

            However you should see the hypocrisy - in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, people like the IMF[1] (and other "Experts") were saying that Governments shouldn't be doing bail outs and instead they should allow the insolvent banks and financial institutions to fail. So were they incompetent or evil?

            Go figure.

            [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_financial_crisis#IMF_role [wikipedia.org]

        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by johnlcallaway (165670) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @07:09PM (#24954401)

          Let's not forget the smart people who picked up and made a profit afterward.

          Evolution is a great system. Here you have a bunch of morons who lost money because they didn't think for themselves and investigate the validity of a story before making a decision. They lost a bunch of money and are now not as attractive as the smart ones who knew what was going on, quietly waited, and bought low.

          Survival of the fittest at it's finest.

      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by stephanruby (542433) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:56PM (#24952303)

        How about outlawing automated trading programs? sounds like a solution to me.

        And what? Require traders to fill out a captcha every time? Or would you protect people from themselves by -- penalizing them/putting them in jail/making them pay large fines -- for using trade automation? How could enforce such a law anyway? It's not like Ebay can even stop all the automated third-party sniping tools that are being used on its site?

        Besides, everyone can blame the evils of trade automation, but hysteria can still happen without trade automation. And may be it did in this case. I certainly know a relative or two who would make immediate trades based on unverified little blurbs they might have happened to catch on TV. Trade automation only makes hysteria more efficient. Outlawing it wouldn't solve the root of the problem. And may be, this decision should just be left to the individual investor/trader who decides to take the risk to use it -- or not.

      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hyppy (74366) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:58PM (#24952347)
        Outlawing software? Wow... Am I on /. still?

        Seriously, this is a case of a lot of stupid people making stupid mistakes. If you have a system that dumps all stock based upon a bad headline, then that's how you choose to play the stock market. Nobody can honestly say that it isn't risky to trade in stocks.

        If they need something, perhaps going after those companies for artificially deflating the stock's value would be the best course. It's not like this couldn't have happened with humans.
        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @05:41PM (#24953047)
          Seriously, this is a case of a lot of stupid people making stupid mistakes. If you have a system that dumps all stock based upon a bad headline,

          That's not how the systems work.

          It's PEOPLE who decide to dump stock based on the headline. Dumping stock makes the price go down. The SOFTWARE part of the story is called a "stop-loss order", which is an automatic "sell" order based on stock price. The theory, which works in practice, is that dumping a stock that has lost 50% of its value (or some other trigger level) will prevent a complete loss of money on that stock. Half of what you had is better than 10% of what you had.

          It replaces the need for someone to sit at the computer monitoring the stock prices every minute of the day. It also prevents the time delay (and loss) for someone who does monitor prices every minute having to enter and execute the sell order.

          If they need something, perhaps going after those companies for artificially deflating the stock's value would be the best course. It's not like this couldn't have happened with humans.

          That's right -- the source of the story should be liable. And it's not like this couldn't have happened with humans, because it started with humans.

          Now, as someone else commented, it's day trading (or short term) that causes this kind of thing. If you buy stock and sit on it (not literally), it will usually go up. My $5 Sony stock has split once and is much higher. Of course, I bought it 30 years ago. And only ten shares. Sigh. It's been higher than it is now, but it's still higher than when I bought it.

          This kind of information tempts one to say "make a law" that all stock bought must be held for six months before it can be sold. That's still not a solution. It will just move the problem over to options, and keep short term money out of the market, making it smaller.

          • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Hyppy (74366) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @06:19PM (#24953735)

            That's right -- the source of the story should be liable.

            So, which source? The original journalist, for reporting on an event at the time in 2002? How about the original paper, which listed it as a popular story? Google, which added the story to their news aggregation feed? Other news outlets, for reporting it as new news when it was seen on an automatic feed?

            I don't think it would be right to prosecute any of these. Information is not illegal. It's how you act on it that creates a liability. Or am I way off base, here?

      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by That's Unpossible! (722232) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @05:04PM (#24952425)

        Why would we need to outlaw something that has a built in mechanism to discourage its use (i.e. getting burned in a deal like this). It's a perfect system.

    • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Underfoot (1344699) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:22PM (#24951723)

      If the interactions were truly due to automation and not active stock manipulations, then I think the responsibility lies in the investor who was stupid enough to use automation and "triggers" to place their trades. That said, I am sure anyone who day traded today made a bundle of money if they hit the swings right. The market has become emotional, and often lacks reason. A lot of it comes from things like "lack of research" and making the market a pure number / target / trigger driven game that the hedge fund can sell you in their little black box.

      Wild. That's all I have to say.

      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Moryath (553296) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:28PM (#24951813)

        Unfortunately, automation/stock triggers ("sell when X", etc) are the only way for the common-man trader who isn't an on-the-ground insider member of one of the stock exchanges to make a timely trade.

        The stock market is itself a pretty asinine setup; a large number of insiders (the only guys allowed on the floor) are allowed to run around trading back and forth, "increasing" the wealth of themselves and the people who hire them based on a relatively arbitrary stock valuation number at a given time. The rest of the world has to work through intermediaries to make a stock transaction and invest in various companies/funds, and pay a brokering fee (further enhancing the wealth only of the lucky-enough-to-get-in brokers) each step of the way.

        End result: those who are NOT in the loop (e.g. the little guy) gets screwed, those who ARE in the insular center keep getting wealthier.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by 2nd Post! (213333)

          That's why buy and hold was invented...

          • "Buy and Hold" is generally good, but if the stock's going bankrupt, holding it any longer isn't going to do you much good. You've got to know when to fold them.

            (I once used a similar technique back during the Boom&Crash years, called "Wasn't paying attention that month", which cost me most of the value of a stock I held too much of - it went from ~60 to ~3, and never recovered past about ~5.)

        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <[Satanicpuppy] [at] [gmail.com]> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:51PM (#24952213) Journal

          If you're in it on a "timely" basis, you're doing it wrong.

          The playing the margins crap only works if that's your job. Otherwise you need to diversify, pick decent stocks, and stick to time windows of at least a week.

          And I'll tell you this for free. People who are wealthy aren't playing the stocks minute by minute. They're wealthy because they play the long game. Right now they're picking up bargains whenever the market drops, and they're holding on to them for when the market evens back out. It's the scrubs who are panicking and losing their shorts selling stocks based on rumor.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          End result: those who are NOT in the loop (e.g. the little guy) gets screwed, those who ARE in the insular center keep getting wealthier.

          The little guy DAY TRADER may get screwed. The little guy INVESTOR is making money just fine. Instead of worrying about trading triggers, why don't you buy stock in a company worth holding for years?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kingrames (858416)
        Part of the problem is in the way things were automated. a few people have stop-losses on their stocks, so that if the stock drops half its value in a day, they automatically sell it so they don't lose everything.

        They actually lost more on this day because of that, and that's probably the worst thing that happened. Now people are going to be less likely to believe in those systems, and could end up losing 100% of their life savings if it isn't a boy crying wolf next time.
        • Re:Holy crap. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Mouse42 (765369) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:39PM (#24951993)

          No one should lose 100% of their life savings due to one stock going wonky. If that's true, they're dumbasses for not diversifying.

        • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:41PM (#24952029)

          It's gambling, it isn't investing.
           

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by compro01 (777531)

        The stock was down only very briefly, presumably as other automatic programs (or maybe even the same ones) triggered a BUYBUYBUY! when the stock dove like that. The price was $11.71 at 10:56am, then the stock price bottomed out at $3.72 at 11:00am, then bounced back to $7.28 at 11:04am. Someone paying close attention could have made quite a nice pile.

    • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:22PM (#24951727) Homepage Journal
      Who's responsibility though? Should Google have people fact check every news story their bots pick up before putting it up on the aggregator? Should stock companies put fact checkers between the newsfeeds and their stock sale bots? Should online newspapers have fact checkers on every article they put online?

      This does show just how fragile a system can be when there is a strong disincentive to going second or third on tasks that one would normally think you should have human interaction.
      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:41PM (#24952021)
        Should online newspapers have fact checkers on every article they put online?

        Abso-fracking-lutely.

        Along with the right to a free press comes the responsibility to be right. Most newspapers ignore the responsibility while hiding behind the right.

      • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:45PM (#24952103)
        I fail to see the problem. Some investors jumped the gun and sold stock that was worth more than they sold it for, because they relied on bad information. The fact that they used automated systems to do this is irrelevant. There was no deception here; anybody could have checked the story themselves in a few seconds and realized what happened. So, you can always be first, or always be right, take your pick. Let the market choose a tradeoff between speed and accuracy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The problem here is not that Google screwed up, it is that so many news agencies were happy to reprint a story with no error checking. Why do we have thousands of newspapers if all they do is regurgitate what Google tells them it found?
    • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by doconnor (134648) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:23PM (#24951739) Homepage

      Yes, but I don't think the main responsibility is with Google. Google can make mistakes. It's all the other news organizations and stock selling software should be blindly following Google's news bot.

      A lot of dumb people probably lost a lot of money, while a lot of smart people probably made a lot of money over this.

    • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cyphercell (843398) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:24PM (#24951745) Homepage Journal
      I'm curious about the trading bots. Were the trading bots dumping the stock in 2002? So, if this story were *current* would the bots have simply destroyed UA?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by lgw (121541)

        You're confusing the common stock with the company. UA destroyed UA. The common is *supposed to* go to 0 when a corp goes bankrupt - the bankruptcy proceedings are a way for the company to survive or at least pay off senior debtors, but junior debtors get nothing.

  • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:12PM (#24951573) Homepage Journal
    ...perhaps they'll be more careful about whose luggage they lose.
  • by theverylastperson (1208224) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:13PM (#24951587) Homepage
    I laughed so hard my coworkers made me go outside.

    I love Google.
  • by Necrobruiser (611198) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:14PM (#24951619)
    Slashdot Idle had this story 24 hours before the main page.....
  • by CheeseTroll (696413) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:16PM (#24951629)

    So the NewsBots trick the TradeBots, and we humans are left on the sidelines, hoping that we don't get squished in the process.

    Sounds like a sad Transformers sequel.

  • Corrections (Score:4, Funny)

    by himself (66589) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:16PM (#24951635)

    "Google regrets the error." What, it always works for the New York Times!

  • by mcsqueak (1043736) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:16PM (#24951645)

    It would be so awesome if the Google news bot was able to dig up some old dirt on Google that would make it's ~$450 per share stock crater... that would be an awesome site to behold.

    I doubt it'll happen, since there haven't been any previously bad financial reports that could come back and masquerade as current news, but you never know.

    It also serves to show how fragile our financial system is (just read the "what if" reports on what would have happened if Fannie Mac/Freddie Mae were allowed to go under... it would have been BAD). Sure, United gained back most of its value but it's still down a good bit of cash. It reminds me of when Abbie Hoffman threw a bunch of $1 bills onto the NYSE trading floor and TRADING STOPPED as the floor traders ran around picking up the bills.

    • by qoncept (599709) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:25PM (#24951761) Homepage
      No, that wouldn't be awesome at all. It's amazing how ignorant slashdot users can obviously be if you take a second to think about the consequences of what they suggest. This is, in fact, the second time today I've responded to someone calling for the spectacular failure of a major company, in the middle of a major economic downturn. Ignoring the huge impact Google falling would have on our economy, maybe you can imagine something a little more practical, that hits home: What search engine do you use?
  • by sammy baby (14909) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:18PM (#24951685) Journal

    "I'm sorry, Mr. Schmidt. Your flight has been delayed by two hours."

    "Son of a... do you people know who I am? Dammit, get Brin on the phone."

  • by genner (694963) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:19PM (#24951701)
    I'll have to point to this next time someone finds an error on my website.
  • by porkThreeWays (895269) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:21PM (#24951715)
    After reading TFA, it sounds like google is LEAST to blame out of the many many automated systems involved. First of all, the damn story should have been dated. That's the tribune's fault. Google doesn't seem to have claimed it as today's news, only ranked it high up. No one should have ever reprinted the story without actually CHECKING WITH UNITED AIR FIRST. That's neither google nor the tribune's fault. That's every service that reprinted the story as new without verifying its fault. Google and tribune seem least at fault because neither ever gave any indication it was a new story.
    • by arcmay (253138) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:31PM (#24951871)

      From the article:
      "the UAL story began circulating widely via a posting by research firm Income Securities Advisors Inc. that was made available to users of Bloomberg L.P., the financial-news service widely watched on Wall Street."

      Some analyst at a research firm made a big deal about the outdated article, after seeing it on Google news. THAT PERSON is the point of failure.

      If you blame Google for this, you might as well blame Google for anyone posting any erroneous information they found after doing an internet search.

  • by szquirrel (140575) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:22PM (#24951725) Homepage

    Google News crawled an obscure reprint...

    The story was then picked up by other news aggregators...

    This triggered automated trading programs...

    Is there even a live person at the wheel anymore? Or is SkyNet just fucking with us now?

  • GIGO (Score:3, Insightful)

    by plopez (54068) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:24PM (#24951747) Journal

    Cautionary tale for the Web 2.0/semantic web or whatever they are calling it now.

  • legal perspective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BountyX (1227176) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:28PM (#24951833)
    I am by no means a lawyer but it sounds like the automated trading software has the majority of the blame since it is the one that actually intiated the trade. So what if google descided to reprint old news...nothing wrong with that.
    • Re:legal perspective (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shados (741919) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:35PM (#24951923)

      I agree. I worked a lot with stock trading management software, but I didn't know about automated ones that would buy/dump stocks over news items. (The one I worked on would simply analyze a set of rule and then dumped a recommendation, with all of its reasoning and justifications, that a human then reviews, check/unchecked their modification, and then ran -that- through automated trading systems).

      Doing it 100% automatically just sounds crazy to me. Especially if its based on uncontroled, automated -news- for christ sake.

  • Maybe if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordKaT (619540) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:32PM (#24951877) Homepage Journal

    Maybe if the industry you were in wasn't on the brink of an economic disaster for the past 7 years an old story being dug up by Google News wouldn't have had such a drastic impact.

  • Evaporating money. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lord Lode (1290856) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:34PM (#24951901)
    Money doesn't just evaporate, I'm sure it's still somewhere!
    • VALUE evaporates (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mangu (126918)

      Money doesn't just evaporate, I'm sure it's still somewhere!

      Burn 1500 $100 notes and the value will still be around somewhere, because less cash circulating will cause a drop in prices, so everybody else's cash will be worth a little bit more. But drive your new Porsche into a wall and you'll see $150 thousand evaporate.

      A $1 billion drop in market value means that there's $1 billion somewhere that left the stock market to be spent on other things. This causes inflation, everybody's cash will have a somewhat

  • by sarysa (1089739) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:40PM (#24952015)
    Ouch.

    That said, are automated trading systems going to be this decade's great Ponzi scheme? I can't believe so many people can be so lazy with their investments to send the stock tumbling that much.

    It looks like the ones who'll ultimately get burned from this are are those who are careless with their money. But how soon before people take advantage of viral networking to manipulate Google's algorithms for determining popular news, bring up old doom and gloom articles to intentionally tank a stock so they can buy while it's cheap?
  • by PMuse (320639) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:44PM (#24952069)

    You're kidding me, right? Stockholders entrusted their assets to managers who entrusted their assets to tradebots. The tradebots/managers made bad decisions. How can the tradebots/managers/stockholders now blame anyone else for their incompetence?

    Anyone who sells something of value based on a rumor this thin deserves what they get. As for those who didn't sell and still lost value, anyone who has been in the stock market for very long knows that you sometimes get what others deserve.

  • by this great guy (922511) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:45PM (#24952113)
    "Oops."
  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:46PM (#24952121)

    This smells like a case of the Frankenstein complex to me. Although Google News may have linked the article in its recent results because of the fresh link on the Sun Sentinel home page, both the WSJ article and the Forbes investigation [forbes.com] make it very clear that the problem was a human editor who misinterpreted the original article and posted it as new information (with a freshly written headline) in a by-subscription-only investor information service that is carried on Bloomberg trading terminals.

    A human saw the story, failed to check the date (there was no date line at the top of the article), refreshed it with a new headline, and republished it on a trading service that was believed to be a source of credible journalism by its readers.

  • by HighOrbit (631451) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:47PM (#24952149)
    How and why would a 5-year old story about bankruptcy suddenly get "voted up" in at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel so that news aggregators (and google-bot) would pick it up? Sounds very suspicious to me.

    So are you telling me that I could set up a "click-bot" to vote up old-news and make myself rich in the ensuing mayhem?
  • by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:49PM (#24952181) Homepage Journal

    First of all, this is fucking hilarious. Anyone with "computers that robotically [sic] troll the Web for news stories and execute stock trades automatically" deserves to reap the consequences of turning their destiny over to a computer.

    Second, I doubt that any capitol was destroyed by this. Wealth didn't "evaporate," it merely moved from stupid people to smarter people.

    I only wish I were one of the smarter people, who bought some stock worth $12 for $3. I should write a program to watch for that sort of thing happening, and then automatically buy-- oh wait.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:51PM (#24952207) Homepage

    Wow. Take a look at Monday's trading history for UAUA. [yahoo.com] Look at that drop. And notice that it happened on huge volume; several hundred million dollars changed hands within fifteen minutes. It wasn't just a few traders running the price down in light trading.

    The stock hasn't come back all the way. It's still down 20% for the week.

    Here's the newspaper page that started it all [blogspot.com], as archived by Google.

  • Missing Dateline (Score:5, Interesting)

    by multisync (218450) * on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:52PM (#24952263) Journal

    Another point that no one seems to be picking up on is the problem of a lot of news sites neglecting to include a dateline on their stories. I've run in to this a number of times, and it makes it difficult to determine the relevance of a given story. It's a very simple thing to include the date the story was published, but a lot of sites don't seem to bother.

  • Modern Times (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fallen Seraph (808728) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:57PM (#24952329)
    So... if Google newsbot picked up the story about Google newsbot's near destruction of United Airlines... would that make it self-aware? :D [/joke]

    Anyway, one interesting thing this story brings up is our over-reliance on automated systems... Googlebot picks up the old story, a financial firm's automated query systems sees the story as a recent one, the system spreads the story to its feeds, and it winds up as an alert in Bloomberg (the trading software, for those who've never worked with a trading firm) and other financial systems.

    It's such a very fragile structure, wherein a single word can irrevocably alter the fate of a company, or even events around the world (butterfly effect, and a company like UA is a big butterfly). In the end, machines won't have to enslave mankind to take over the world. We've gladly handed them the keys and gone on vacation in the Bahamas...
  • by rickb928 (945187) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @05:13PM (#24952595) Homepage Journal

    ...die by the sword.

    If you're trading based on news, minutes or seconds of advantage, and arbitrage, then you'll occasionally get nailed by something unforseen. Like a two-or three year old news story that 'looks' new all of a sudden.

    So is someone watching over this, ready to pull the plug if something doesn't smell right? Nope. When the timing is so short, you're at the mercy of the system.

    Besides, most of these programs are pure arbitrage. Which is sort of the 'greater fool' theory in play. You make money at someone else's expense. Like they didn't know about something, and you sell out a minute before they find out.

    In this case, justice, if there is any, is won by those who saw the activity, realized the mistake, bought low and sold back high. Too bad, big institutional investor. You lost this round.

    I can't shed a tear.

  • Joke Economy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @05:33PM (#24952933) Homepage Journal

    When a blip at a local Florida newspaper can combine with a trivial bug to destroy a major American airline in a morning, the economy and the "reporting" that the economy depends on is revealed to be a giant joke.

    This episode was remarkable because it was huge, fast, and concentrated in a single high profile corporation. But how much of this broken system's smaller problems go "unnoticed"? Unnoticed as problems, at least, but showing up in all kinds of market valuations and economic decisions based on them that are all built on a landscape of errors, omissions and misunderestimations?

    How can you trust an economy that makes mistakes like that? Anyone smart would find any alternative that's less crazy and put their money into it.

  • by speedtux (1307149) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @05:51PM (#24953211)

    This wasn't Google's, it was the Tribune that posted the story as new. Google just picked it up and republished it, as they do with all news, without any guarantee that it's accurate.

    And the people who caused United to lose the money were automated trading programs. Maybe they should be made a bit more robust? Just a thought.

  • by religious freak (1005821) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @06:05PM (#24953489)
    ... it will be now
  • by Skapare (16644) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @08:54PM (#24955513) Homepage

    ... bought UAL stock at just $3? Oh wait.

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