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Bots Gone Bad

Bruce Carton | September 9, 2008

Yesterday, at approximately 9:53 am, a headline appeared on Bloomberg screens worldwide stating "UAL Corp.: United Airlines files for Ch. 11 to cut costs." In a blink, the airline's stock fell from around $12 to $3 a share, and Nasdaq quickly halted trading. About an hour later, UAL issued a statement confirming the report was false, and UAL's shares rebounded to close at $10.92.

What mischief caused the company to lose $1 billion in market capitalization? Who was to blame for the false story? A day later it appears that for all of the cries that quickly followed for SEC investigations, litigation and retractions, there were almost no humans involved in the chain of events that almost took UAL's stock to zero yesterday. Call it "Bots Gone Bad."

At 10:36 pm on Saturday, Sept. 6, a Google "bot" (an automated crawler that seeks out new information on the Internet for Google) moseyed on to the Florida Sun-Sentinel website where it discovered a new link in a section...

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