Thursday , September 20 2018

Dow Jones said that Google was buying Apple, and the bots bought it

There you have it. Steve Jobs’ will + Dow Jones + Apple Park = Google’s buying Apple. I think we finally have algorithmic transparency.

This morning Dow Jones shot some fake news out over the wires announcing that Google was acquiring Apple for $9 billion. For a brief second, the news sent Apple’s stock up about $2 to $158 per share. To the benefit of everyone’s morning, both stock prices quickly returned to normal.

The story went something like this. Larry Page and Steve Jobs started discussing an acquisition back in 2010. Jobs outlined the plans in his will, which dictated the sale to close tomorrow. Google would get nine Apple shares for each Google share at a deal value of $9 billion. Insane to a human, logical to a bot.

Dow Jones issued a statement to 9to5Mac, who first reported the drama. The company asserted that the calamity was the product of a technical error and all erroneous headlines would be stripped from the newswire.

But the human reaction wasn’t fast enough for the algos. We can only admire the poorly written rules from a distance. It’s irritating, as it always is, when the curtains get pulled back for a brief moment and we all realize that our financial markets are being run by bots with the intelligence of infants. Keyword search, sentiment analysis, trend identification (certainly caused by other bots) and whatever other magic was at play really don’t cut it when long-tail events like this happen.

I went ahead and pulled some time series data from the moment the news went live and you can easily see the price getting pushed up. There’s a volume spike near the end when the system realizes what is going on and everything instantly returns to normal.

Update: 1:30pm PST — Dow Jones sent us the following statement

“I take today’s inadvertent and erroneous publication of testing materials extremely seriously. While immediate corrective action has been taken, I have also ordered a review of news and technology processes in this area,” said William Lewis, CEO of Dow Jones and Publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

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