Palantir is Big Data’s glory child. In the five years of their existence, they’ve taken their data analytics business from basically nothing to being the go-to company for various three letter agencies within the US government. It has been rumored that Palantir was the company that helped the US government find and track down Osama Bin Laden. And since Palantir has a clientele that include the NSA and FBI, there is no shortage of people that simply don’t like the company or the company’s CEO, Alex Karp. Oh, and Palantir’s origins are marked by getting funding from none other than the CIA itself. So, naturally, there’s very little trust for this company, especially when you consider that they are possibly THE company helping the NSA mine through their expansive data and organize it in ways that are comprehensible.
It also helps Palantir, as a company, that they have people like former Defense Secretary Condoleeza Rice and former CIA director George tenet as advisors. Palantir has also received much praise from the most recent former CIA director, General David Patraeus which described Palantir to Forbes as, "a better moustrap when a better moustrap was needed," and referred to the company’s CEO, Karp, as "sheer brilliant." As a result, Karp is forced to have a constant security presence considering all of the various death threats and stalkers that he’s had over the years. Keeping in mind that Karp has a Ph.D in social theory and has a very philosophical approach to his company’s products and clients and says he worries about privacy and security.
But the company is not only in the defense business, they also work with pharmaceuticals, banking, tracking down fraud and catching hackers. They are able to save Wall Street banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America hundreds of millions of dollars while simultaneously doing it for less money than their competitors. Estimates put their revenues at about $450 million dollars, up from under $300 million last year and will probably bring the company into profitability next year. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the company’s complete and utter domination of the market right now has put them in a position to raise funds at a $9 billion valuation.
In addition to having some pretty powerful customers in both the governmental and business world, Palantir also has some very powerful investors, not including the CIA. Most notably, Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal that eventually helped get Facebook off the ground financially as well. Peter Thiel is their billionaire investor and actually has more share in the company than the founder, Alex Karp. But the company prides itself in being ethical and not taking on projects that could be ethically questionable. The CEO stated that they walk away from as much as 20% of their possible revenues for ethical reasons, but it remains to be seen if they can really do that as a publicly traded company (an unfortunate inevitability in the world of Silicon Valley VCs that invest in companies expecting to get a considerable exit).
So, it really remains to be seen whether or not Palantir is an evil company or not. Because, if you look at the things that they enable our police and security agencies to do, it may be considered a public good. But in light of the NSA’s spying on Americans and the billions of location data points that they collect, it would not be too much of a stretch to see the NSA, CIA and FBI using those vast pools of data to enable them to do some very questionable things.