Goldman Sachs' sneaky software

If the code allegedly stolen by programmer Sergey Aleynikov is so powerful, maybe it shouldn't exist at all

Published August 24, 2009 8:25PM (EDT)

More than a month after the arrest of former Goldman Sachs programmer Sergey Aleynikov on charges of stealing high-frequency trading software code from his employer rocketed through the blogosphere, the New York Times rumbles in with a feature by Alex Berenson on the saga that provides a lot more color, but not much more substance to the story than we already knew.

But Dean Baker, ever the mainstream media gadfly, seizes upon one peculiar point.

Berenson writes:

At a bail hearing three days later, a federal prosecutor asked that Mr. Aleynikov be held without bond because the code could be used to "unfairly manipulate" stock prices.

Baker writes:

[The story] almost completely ignores the more basic issue that the federal government effectively claims that Goldman Sachs has software that can be used to manipulate stock prices. If the software can be used for illegal purposes, why is it more serious that a relatively low level employee has access to it than Goldman Sachs' top executives?

That is the rub, isn't it? What safeguards are in place to determine that Goldman Sachs or any other high-frequency stock trader isn't abusing its cutting-edge software tools? And if the software could manipulate stock prices, maybe it should be illegal, no?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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