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6 Years And One Witch Hunt Later, Goldman Changes Its Mind On "Secret Sauce" Software

For anyone who didn’t read Flash Boys or who hasn’t otherwise apprised themselves of the history behind the proliferation of the parasitic, vacuum tubes that have embedded themselves between real buyers and sellers in order to extract a tax on each and every trade in the name of "providing liquidity", you might have missed out on the sad story of Sergey Aleynikov, the Russian computer programmer and target of a six-year Goldman witch hunt.

In 2010, a federal court convicted Aleynikov of stealing trading code from Goldman. As WSJ notes, Aleynikov was "acquitted of those charges on appeal, then charged again by the Manhattan District Attorney and convicted a second time, [before] a state judge dismissed the case last month on grounds that prosecutors failed to show enough evidence to support the verdict."

And while the Manhattan DA is appealing the ruling, Goldman is busy doing the exact same thing that Aleynikov is supposedly "guilty" of - distributing open source code. Here’s WSJ with the story:

Goldman will soon offer clients access to more of its in-house tools, such as high-powered databases that analyze markets and manage risk, according to the firm’s executives. Those proprietary systems have long been key elements enabling Goldman to sidestep market turmoil and ring up outsized profits in better conditions.

 

Given direct access to these tools, Goldman clients could use the technology to build their own trading systems and potentially make purchases independent of the firm.

 

But the firm’s executives believe the upside outweighs those concerns. Goldman is betting that its clients, such as hedge funds and other money managers, will use the individual applications, or apps, to develop strategies and then execute their trades with the firm.

 

By deepening ties with those clients, Goldman hopes it will pick up other business from them as well.

The development has been a centerpiece of a new technology strategy developed by R. Martin Chavez, the firm’s chief information officer.

 

“We’re constantly asking ourselves about all of it,” Mr. Chavez said. “Is this software better for clients and the planet if it’s inside Goldman? Or is it better if we extend the platform to clients, or in some cases does a spinout into open source or a company make more sense?”

Now clearly, there are all kinds of amusing things about that last statement, including the notion that anything going on over at 200 West is good "for the planet" (they're just "doing God's work" over there, you know), but the idea that the firm now sees the utility in actively distributing open source code when by all accounts what Aleynikov took with him on the way out the door wasn't proprietary at all, is evidence of blatant hypocrisy on the part of current management or complete incompetence on the part of those who came before - or both. 

Furthermore, one wonders what happened to the notion that allowing this type of code to fall into the "wrong" hands, would be the capital markets equivalent of giving al-Qaeda a suitcase nuke. Remember, Goldman's contention when Aleynikov was arrested was that the code he allegedly stole (the open source code) could be used to "manipulate markets in unfair ways." Does that, by extension, mean that Goldman will now equip its most important clients with the tools to manipulate markets? 

Well yes, but that doesn't mean they weren't already doing that. Here's the Journal again:

The concept of giving clients potentially valuable information in hopes of winning business isn't unprecedented: Goldman and other investment banks have for years given clients trading ideas and market research on the same presumption.

Of course given what we know about the tendency for Goldman to "muppetize" clients who take the firm's "recommendations" at face value, we can't help but wonder if the same fate isn't in store for anyone who buys what the bank is selling (or giving away) in terms of software. 

In any event, one thing we're quite sure of is that Goldman won't be trying to convince the Manhattan DA that given the firm's enlightened stance on open source software, the torment of Sergey Aleynikov should finally come to an end.