How is Palantir doing in May 2015

Palantir: How big data can be used to monitor the coronavirus in Austria

Palantir, these are the seeing stones from "The Lord of the Rings", with which magicians can look into the distance and through which the overly evil Sauron communicates with the second evil Saruman. Palantir Technologies is also a bit data company from Silicon Valley that is now selling its software to more and more countries in the wake of the Corona crisis. The “Lord of the Rings” reference can still be seen clearly in the company's logo.

Founded in 2004 by CEO Alex Karp and investor Peter Thiel, Palantir has both the US agency CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) of the US Department of Health and the British NHS (National Health Service) with software for tracking COVID-19 supplies. And: Palantir is in talks with the health authorities of France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria to help them with big data software. The Austrian Ministry of Health has confirmed to Der Standard that it is examining an offer from Palantir. This also makes it increasingly clear what government representatives mean when they talk about big data in the Corona crisis.

Good connections to Austria

Palantir has a few points of contact with Austria. CEO David Karp was already a guest at the “Darwin’s Circle” digitization conference in Vienna in 2017, where he discussed ethics in IT with the then Federal Chancellor Christian Kern. The former federal manager of the SPÖ, Laura Rudas, has been with the company since 2015, and a founder of a Viennese start-up is now also working at Palantir. At the beginning of the year, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) met Karp in Silicon Valley.

Palantir has already done business with the NHS in the UK. There, the software "Foundry" - one of two products from Palantir - is used to integrate, cleanse and harmonize different data and to develop a "Single Source of Truth" that supports decision-making . In addition to Palantir, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are also involved in the big data project, who contribute their cloud services, as well as the London AI specialist Faculty.

Hospitals and patients in the system

What is the major project about now? The NHS wants to bring a wide variety of data together in Palantir's big data platform to enable hospitals to:

  • Current Occupancy of the hospitals, broken down into general beds and special beds and / or beds for intensive care
  • Current Emergency room capacity and current waiting times
  • Statistics on the Length of stay of Covid-19 patients

capture. Outside the hospitals, the NHS also wants to use the software or the data to:

  • understand how that is Virus at the local level spreads
  • Risks for particularly vulnerable population groups detect
  • the health and Supply resources in newly emerging trouble spots proactively increase
  • make sure critical equipment is delivered to the facilities in greatest need
  • Guide patients to facilitiesthat they can best serve based on demand, resources and human capacity

From these goals one can already deduce that a large amount of data has to be processed for this, ideally in real time. The data that is fed into the system should “largely come from existing data sources” - that is, data that has already been collected by NHS England, NHS Improvement, Public Health England and NHS Digital. In addition, there is also patient data or data from those affected.

“All data in the data store is anonymous and is subject to strict controls that meet the requirements of data protection legislation and ensure that people cannot be identified again. This includes removing identifiers such as name and address and replacing them with a pseudonym, ”says the NHS. After coping with the pandemic, the data should be deleted.

Deletion after the end of the pandemic

“When the pandemic subsides and the outbreak is contained, we will close the Covid-19 data store. The data processing arrangements made with the above organizations include the steps to be taken to cease processing and either destroy the data or return the data to the NHS England and NHS Improvement once the public health emergency is over ” , it says on the part of the health authority.

What data could theoretically be fed into such a big data system in Austria? In addition to information from the hospitals, there is also location data from cell phones (more on this here) or anonymized data from the Red Cross app. Whether that will actually be done is open - it would be technically possible.

Much criticism of "key company in the surveillance industry"

In any case, Palantir Technologies is a controversial company. It was initially co-financed by funds from In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital arm, and customers include many US agencies such as the CIA, FBI, NSA, US Navy, Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) . According to reports, big data software is supposed to work well. After 9/11, she is said to have helped to determine the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

In Germany, Palantir software "Gotham" (the second major product next to "Foundry") is also used by the police in Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. There, for example, data analyzes are carried out in the case of serious crimes (e.g. terrorism, organized crime) in order to bring together different data - e.g. from social media. The Hessian Interior Minister Peter Beuth (CDU) received the Big Brother Award in Germany in 2019 for the acquisition of Palantir. The US civil rights association ACLU has already called Palantir a "key company in the surveillance industry".