Palantir Technologies: Soldiering Forward

July 16, 2019

On the positive side, Palantir Technologies landed a $144 million blanket purchase agreement from the US Navy. Presumably, Palantir will provide its government-centric investigation and intelligence analysis system and engineering services. According to GovConWire:

The fixed-price BPA [blanket purchase agreement] has a one-year base term valued at $27.6M and four option years that could run through July 11, 2024.

IBM, Oracle, and other traditional intelware vendors are unlikely to be thrilled with the award.

On the negative side, Liberation, an online information service, reported that protests were held in Palo Alto. The group wants Palantir to be shut down. This is a dramatic statement, and it is not going to stop Palantir from licensing its technology to government agencies.

So, good news and bad news for Palantir. DarkCyber believes the company will focus on staying open and closing deals. Competitive systems are proliferating, and some of the newer systems are easier to use and eliminate some of the fussiness associated with the ageing Gotham system.

Stephen E Arnold, July 16, 2019

Palantir Technologies: The Winding Down of DCGS and the Winding Up of Old School Intelware Vendors

March 29, 2019

Update (March 30, 2019) to related to winding down: 

First Mercantile Trust Co Has Lowered By $390,609 Its Raytheon Company in DMinute

If you recognize the acronym “DCGS”,  you probably know that the Tolkien-infused intelware vendor Palantir Technologies has captured the $800 million contract for the US Army’s “new” intelligence system. If not, you won’t care.

According to “Palantir Wins Competition to Build Army Intelligence System,”:

The Army has chosen Palantir Technologies to deploy a complex battlefield intelligence system for soldiers, according to Army documents, a significant boost for a company that has attracted a devoted following in national security circles but had struggled to win a major defense contract.

The deal is important. A number of old school vendors have been chugging away on intelware for years. Vendors like Raytheon, IBM, Digital Reasoning, and dozens of others failed to deliver. Palantir, which is not without its share of issues, is going to provide war fighters with a more modern systems.

The fact that Palantir’s core software dates from 2003 suggests that more up to date systems are not in the cards for years to come. DarkCyber has picked  up rumors that big chunks of Palantir’s plumbing uses open source, plays semi-nice with legacy system file formats, and operates on the Amazon AWS infrastructure are important to war fighters. The possibility exists that Palantir Technologies can embrace and extend the functionality of its systems.

Does this procurement hint at any future big Pentagon contract announcements? Maybe.

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2019

Palantir Technologies and KT4 Partners: Information Decision

February 14, 2019

If you follow Palantir Technologies, there is a dust up between KT4 Partners and the producer of intelware; that is, software designed to provide intelligence solutions to licensees.

Like Palantir’s dispute with the original i2 Ltd., the details are difficult to discern due to the legal processes themselves, the desire of those involved to remain out of the spotlight, and the time lag between events.

If you do follow the legal machinations, you will want to read “Delaware Court Provides Guidance for Books and Records Demands to Limit Producing Electronic Data to Stockholders.”

I am not a lawyer and lawyers in general make me nervous; however, it appears that KT4 will be able to access certain documents to which Palantir has denied access.

Why’s this important?

Palantir and KT4 know that money is at stake. Expensive settlements may have an impact on Palantir’s IPO. Furthermore, documents may contain interesting information which could find its way into the media.

Worth monitoring this matter.

Stephen E Arnold, February 14, 2019

Bloomberg Continues to Needle Palantir Technologies

February 1, 2019

Buzzfeed once was a good source of anti-Palantir Technologies’ information. But change is constant. Now Bloomberg finds news in the company that tries to keep a low profile.

Palantir Technologies, as you may know, is a firm which is a search and retrieval system on steroids. One can use the system to find an entity amidst the process content. If search doesn’t work, the firm has bundled a range of software modules to identify those elusive facts an investigator, a financial analyst, or a drug researcher seeks.

Bloomberg’s “Palantir Slashes Its Own Stock Price to Boost Morale” reports that employees are a bit unhappy. The company is 15 years old, and not really a start up. The firm’s technology is a bit long in the tooth as well. Big systems are difficult to reengineer to keep up with the waves of newcomers. For example, I am not sure a comprehensive list of Palantir-like start ups in Israel exists. I have lists, but these are far from complete. Ever hear of Narrative Science?

The write up points out that Palantir’s high valuation has begun to slump, like the eyesight of a teen who has played video games for a decade every night for five hours in his or her bedroom.

The main point of the write up strikes at the soul of the Silicon Valley capitalist: “The stock adjustment raises an important question: What is Palantir worth?”

The answer is that search centric companies, regardless of how they are packaged, lack the ability to generate cash in the manner of Facebook, Google, or, praise the Austrian economists, Amazon.

This Bloomberg statement casts a shadow over Palantir and its management team:

Because Palantir typically offers lower salaries than many nearby tech companies, equity is a big part of the sell. But the stock options were overpriced, according to Palantir shareholders and prospective investors. All seven mutual funds that own Palantir shares have slashed the value of their holdings since their 2015 high of $11.38. SP Investments Management values Palantir at $7.87 a share as of September, the most recent data available. Morgan Stanley’s mutual funds have decreased prices seven times in three years, to $2.49.

Employee unrest, poaching of staff, and financial fancy dancing are routine in Silicon Valley. Why target Palantir? That’s a question which I find more interesting than why the company is trying to keep employees happy?

The answer, “Real news.”

Stephen E Arnold, February 1, 2019

Palantir Technologies: Keeping Momentum, Job One

November 29, 2018

Hop in your time machine and think back about five years. While it feels like the olden days of horse-drawn carriages already, it was a golden age for big data analytics startups. Tops on that list for many was Palantir. Thought, today things are much different, as we discovered in a recent Cheddar video, “Why Palantir’s Valuation is Withering Away.”

According to the article:

“Not long ago Palantir Technologies was valued at $20 billion and one of Silicon Valley’s brightest tech companies. Today, the big data analytics company’s worth has been slashed to $6 billion by Morgan Stanley as it heads towards an IPO.”

Perhaps part of the lag draws from Palantir’s secrecy, considering it works for organizations like the CIA and others.

However, stakeholders and employees still have big dreams like many other Silicon Valley shop: They want to go public.

A drop in valuation and concern over whether they can ever turn a profit is starting to seriously tarnish this once golden child of the tech industry.

Beyond Search does not want to draw parallels with Autonomy or other search centric firms. Some of these outfits found that the momentum of selling sizzle was difficult to maintain in a room with open windows.

Worth watching how this financial drama plays out as Amazon gears up to become the go to provider of policeware and possibly business intelligence services.

Patrick Roland, November 29, 2018

Thomson Reuters on a Privacy International Beat

November 26, 2018

I know that commercial database publishers can be profitable operations. But in order to keep pace with erosion of some traditional revenue streams, some professional publishers have been working to generate new databases which can be licensed to certain government agencies. In most cases, a researcher or librarian will not have these electronic files in their toolkit.

Privacy International published “Who Supplies the Data, Analysis, and Tech Infrastructure to US Immigration Authorities?” The report is available without charge, but I suggest that you download it promptly. Certain reports about some topics can go offline without notice.

I don’t want to dig through the references to references to Palantir. The information about that company is not particularly fresh. However, Privacy International has gathered some useful examples of Thomson Reuters’ products and services to law enforcement and other government agencies.

Privacy International seems unaware that many LE and intel entities routinely outsource work to third part, license a wide range of numeric and factual data, and tap into the talent pools at third party firms.

The Privacy International report does not provide much information about Thomson Reuters’ use of the Palantir technology. That might be an interesting topic for some young researcher to explore. We will do a short item about some of the Privacy International information in the DarkCyber for December 11, 2018.

Stephen E Arnold, November 26, 2018

Facebook: Collateral Damage?

May 17, 2018

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal has rightly been scrutinized by everyone from individual users to entire government bodies. As could be expected when the players are this large, what people are finding links together unlikely suspects and victims in this data breach. One such surprise popped up this week when we read a Gizmodo report, “Facebook ‘Looking Into’ Palantir’s Access to User Data.”

According to the story:

“The inquiry was led by Damian Collins, chair of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee. According to CNBC, Collins asked if Palantir was part of Facebook’s “review work.”

“While it’s unclear if it gained access to the Facebook user data that Cambridge Analytica harvested, Palantir’s connection to the social network extends beyond any potential collaboration with Cambridge Analytica. Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member, is a Palantir co-founder.”

We aren’t sure what the big data powerhouse Palantir knew or didn’t know, but if they are found to have violated laws it could get ugly. And the ugliness doesn’t seem to know any depths in this case. Take for example, the recent news that Cambridge Analytica’s data could be up for sale since the company declared bankruptcy after the data breach news tanked the company. Buckle up, because we don’t think the dominoes are done falling yet.

Patrick Roland, May 17, 2018

Palantir: Cambridge Analytica Secondary Shock Wave

April 19, 2018

Data analysis firm Palantir has come under scrutiny after it was learned that one of its employees contributed to Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of private data back in 2013 and 2014. Now BuzzFeed News emphasizes, “Palantir Had No Policy on Social Media Data Collection Prior to 2015.” The company was used to working with internal data for organizations like the FBI and JPMorgan Chase, to name just a couple big-name examples, where the data is clearly their clients’ property. When Palantir began working with social-media data, it seems they failed to anticipate the need for a comprehensive policy. Reporter William Alden writes:

“Palantir insiders felt that the company’s ‘ad hoc’ approach to handling social media data for customers in general was ‘becoming unworkable,’ a senior engineer said in an October 2014 memo not related to Cambridge Analytica. Palantir took steps to develop a social media data policy in early 2015, soliciting input from employees who’d worked on customer accounts involving the use of such data, an email from that time shows. Palantir has said previously that its employee, Alfredas Chmieliauskas, advised the Cambridge Analytica team in ‘an entirely personal capacity’ from 2013 to 2014, and that Cambridge Analytica was never a Palantir customer. There is no indication in the documents seen by BuzzFeed News that the push by Palantir to develop the social media policy had anything to do with Cambridge Analytica. Rather, the push was tied to requests by Palantir’s customers to mine social data during a time when Facebook’s restrictions on accessing and gathering data were much looser.”

The article reveals a few more details about Palantir’s internal discussion, and reminds us that the prevailing attitude toward social-media data was much more relaxed then than it is today. We trust that the company has tightened up their policy since. Founded in 2004, Palantir is based in Palo Alto, California, and has offices around the world.

This alleged interaction may cause a gentle breeze or a cyclone. Stay tuned.

Cynthia Murrell, April 19, 2018

Crime Prediction: Not a New Intelligence Analysis Function

March 16, 2018

We noted “New Orleans Ends Its Palantir Predictive Policing Program.” The interest in this Palantir Technologies’ project surprised us from our log cabin with a view of the mine drainage run off pond. The predictive angle is neither new nor particularly stealthy. Many years ago when I worked for one of the outfits developing intelligence analysis systems, the “predictive” function was a routine function.

Here’s how it works:

  • Identify an entity of interest (person, event, organization, etc.)
  • Search for other items including the entity
  • Generate near matches. (We called this “fuzzification” because we wanted hits which were “near” the entity in which we had an interest. Plus, the process worked reasonably well in reverse too.)
  • Punch the analyze function.

Once one repeats the process several times, the system dutifully generates reports which make it easy to spot:

  • Exact matches; for example, a “name” has a telephone number and a dossier
  • Close matches; for example, a partial name or organization is associated with the telephone number of the identity
  • Predicted matches; for example, based on available “knowns”, the system can generate a list of highly likely matches.

The particular systems with which I am familiar allow the analyst, investigator, or intelligence professional to explore the relationships among these pieces of information. Timeline functions make it trivial to plot when events took place and retrieve from the analytics module highly likely locations for future actions. If an “organization” held a meeting with several “entities” at a particular location, the geographic component can plot the actual meetings and highlight suggestions for future meetings. In short, prediction functions work in a manner similar to Excel’s filling in items in a number series.

heat map with histogram

What would you predict as a “hot spot” based on this map? The red areas, the yellow areas, the orange areas, or the areas without an overlay? Prediction is facilitated with some outputs from intelligence analysis software. (Source: Palantir via Google Image search)

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Is Change Coming to High Tech Lobbying in Washington, DC?

March 14, 2018

The received wisdom in Washington, DC is that when it comes to politics, money talks.

The idea is simple: Donate money to a politician’s campaign or a politician’s favorite “cause” and get your email and phone calls answered.

The Independent explains that, “Google Outspends All Rival Washington Lobbyists For First Time In 2017.”

In 2017, Google spent $18 million to lobby Congress on a slew of issues ranging from immigration, tax reform, antitrust, and online advertising. Tech companies have big bucks and the power to take on Congress on governmental policies. Lawmakers, on the other hand, fire back with pot shots like allowing Russian operatives to share content and how their software and other technology allows tech companies to abuse their power.

Google’s Washington operation proposed legislation that would require Web companies to collaborate on a public database of political as that run on their platforms. The idea is that the database would prevent foreign nations from exploiting online platforms. Other companies like Amazon and Facebook have ramped up their lobbying spending too.

Despite the power tech companies wield, their roles in society are changing and there is some fear associated with it:

“‘These are companies that are touching so many parts of the economy, they are touching so many parts of our geography. So it’s inevitable that they are going to engage in a host of political and policy issues,’ said Julie Samuels, the executive director of Tech: NYC, a group that represents New York-based tech firms. Samuels added that Silicon Valley has also had to adjust to a new political order, under a Republican administration. ‘Many tech companies had only been real players during the Obama administration. They had a lot to learn.’”

Now the received wisdom may have to modified. Beyond Search noted that Palantir has landed a chunk of a US government contract to create a DCGS which meets the needs of the US Army.

We think that Google will continue to support lobbying, but it will seek more deals like its tie up with the US government’s push for artificial intelligence. What may emerge is a new approach to influencing procurement decisions and legislation in Washington.

Whitney Grace, March 14, 2018

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