Technology has shaped our world in almost every way possible. Interaction with it is not only common on a day to day basis, but it is also required to get things accomplished. This simple fact has led to amazing feats and incredible efficiency, but there are also externalities. Technology can be good or bad depending on how it is used and how it is viewed. This is what lies at the core of high frequency trading.
High frequency trading is a relatively new development. Essentially, it is a collection of massive computing power that takes in stock market trading information in order to buy stocks before large orders can be fully processed. This is possible because of thirteen stock exchanging platforms. If a company, mutual fund, hedge fund, etc. places an order for a large block of shares, those shares must be found on the stock exchanges. When this information hits the first stock exchange, it is picked up by high frequency trading computers that quickly go out and purchase that very stock and then sell it to the purchasing institution at a higher price. All of this takes place in milliseconds.
The FBI has launched an investigation into this type of activity to test its legality. Basically what these high frequency trading computers are doing is front running stocks. Seeing orders in the pipeline and having computers that are faster by only milliseconds allows them to make slight profits on trades of others. Repeated millions of times a day, this quickly adds up. The investigation is a question of whether this constitutes insider trading and thus securities fraud. In order to be considered insider trading, the FBI must find evidence that this information is sufficiently out of the public's reach. When dealing with such quick time intervals, this portion may prove extremely difficult. The other finding that could lead to securities fraud is if the FBI can prove that some of these exchanges, especially the slower ones, simply serve as a way for traders to make money without actually serving a true purpose for trading fairly. Again, a difficult task.
The grayness of this issue is the same as many technological problems confronted today; the world’s technology is advancing so fast that laws and legal structures cannot keep up. Because there is no definitive authoritative texts on this matter, it will be tough to legally challenge this practice. The impact this has on the markets of the world is immense and the answers, as of right now, seem to be few.