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

Short Honk: Palantir Technologies and DCGS

March 10, 2018

I don’t know if the information in “Army Taps Raytheon, Palantir for Potential $876M Ground Intell system Support Contract.” The Beyond Search and Dark Cyber teams will monitor the subject. The GovConWire stated on March 9, 2018:

Raytheon and Palantir Technologies have won spots on a potential 10-year, $876 million contract to help the U.S. Army address technology requirements for the service branch’s Distributed Common Ground System.

If on the money, this is big news. Our perception was that Palantir was not in the DCGS winner’s circle. Looks like IBM and its technology partners have to adapt.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2018

Palantir: Accused of Hegelian Contradictions

January 29, 2018

I bet you have not thought about Hegel since you took that required philosophy course in college. Well, Hegel and his “contradictions” are central to “WEF 2018: Davos, Data, Palantir and the Future of the Internet.”

I highlighted this passage from the essay:

Data is the route to security. Data is the route to oppression. Data is the route to individual ideation. Data is the route to the hive mind. Data is the route to civic wealth. Data is the route to civic collapse.

Thesis, antitheses, synthesis in action I surmise.

The near term objective is synthesis. I assume this is the “connecting the dots” approach to finding what one needs to know.

I learned:

The stakes for big data couldn’t be bigger.

Okay, a categorical in our fast changing, diverse economic and political climate. Be afraid seems to be the message.

Palantir’s point of operations in Davos is described in the write up as “a pimped up liquor store.” Helpful and highly suggestive too.

The conclusion of the essay warranted a big red circle:

So next time you hear the names Palantir or Alex Karp, stop what you’re doing and pay attention. The future – your future – is under discussion. Under construction. This little first draft of history of which you’ve made it to the end (congratulations and thanks) – the history of data – is of a future that will in time come to be seen for what it is: digital that truly matters.

Several observations:

  • The author wants me to believe that Palantir is not a pal.
  • The big data thing troubles the author because Palantir is one of the vendors providing next generation information access.
  • The goal of making Palantir into something unique is best accomplished by invoking Fancy Dan ideas.

I would suggest that knowledge about companies like Gamma Group FinFisher, Shoghi, Trovicor, and some other interesting non US entities might put Palantir in perspective. Palantir has an operational focus; some of the other vendors perform different information services.

Palantir is an innovator, but it is part of a landscape of data intercept and analysis organizations. I could make a case that Palantir is capable but some companies in Europe and the East are actually more technologically advanced.

But these outfits were not at Davos. Why? That’s a good question. Perhaps they were too busy with their commercial and government work. My hunch is that a few of these outfits were indeed “there”, just not noticed by the expert who checked out the liquor store.

Stephen E Arnold, January 29, 2019

Palantir and Google: Surprising Allegation from St Louis

November 16, 2017

I read “Thiel Gave Money to Missouri Attorney General Going after Google.” The article reports:

Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who backed Donald Trump’s presidential run, gave $300,000 to a political campaign of Josh Hawley, the Missouri attorney general who opened an antitrust investigation into Google this week.

My reaction was, “Is there a connection between this donation and the investigation of Google by Josh Hawley, the Missouri attorney general?”

The article appears to make this connection. I am not so quick to seize upon this implication. From my point of view, without more factual information, the story leaves me as cold as a catfish pulled from the Crooked River.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2017

Palantir Technologies: Valuation Doubts?

October 18, 2017

i read “Palantir Will Struggle to Hold On to $20 Billion Valuation, Study Says.” Interesting stuff because beating up on hapless Silicon Valley companies is becoming a mini-trend. Facebook is in the dog house because it sells ads. Google is in the kennel because Europe finds its business practices less than Euro-cool. Twitter. Poor Twitter. Its part time boss is going to improve controls on the Wild West of short messages.

Now it is Palantir, the software company which offers an alternative to the IBM Analyst Notebook system. I thought Palantir was in the cat bird seat to provide technology that would deliver certain functionality to various US government agencies, financial institutions, and other organizations wanting to make sense of data.

I learned from the Bloomberg write up:

If Palantir Technologies Inc. pursues plans for a public offering and follows through by 2019, it will need to rein in spending and woo corporate customers just to be able to hang on to a $20 billion valuation it was awarded two years ago, according to a new study. It could also be worth a lot less.

Bloomberg cites a “study” which reveals that Palantir technology needs some set up and configuration before the users can make sense of digital information processed by the system.

This apparently comes as a surprise to Bloomberg and the SharesPost research team.

The reality of next generation information access systems is different from an iPhone or Android app one downloads and uses immediately. I know this is a surprise to many “experts,” but next generation information access systems are complicated. I explain why in my 2015 CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access Systems.

What’s interesting is that instead of putting the Palantir systems in a meaningful context, the report and apparently Bloomberg want to make another Silicon Valley outfit look like a bent penny.

Valuation is in the eye of the beholder and the Excels generated by whiz kids who want to buy a new Porsche.

Bloomberg quotes the report as a way to wrap up the news story with a stomp on Palantir’s foot; to wit:

Palantir “is currently valued much higher than its peers in the big data and analytics space,” Kulkarni wrote, adding that he believes Palantir will maintain the rich valuation if it keeps adding corporate clients and expedites cost cutting. He wrote that Palantir remains an attractive acquisition target – Oracle weighed the option last year but demurred – and estimated Palantir’s low-end value in 2019 at $13.8 billion.

Is there another view of Palantir? Guess not.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2017

China Transwarp: Can This Be a Palantir Challenger?

July 24, 2017

One of my sources provided me with a link to a write up which may be translated as “Yujialong star ring technology common to build China Palantir” or “Yu Jialong together star ring technology together to build China’s Palantir.” The link to the original article is here. “Yu Jialong” is a subsidiary of Boone Group, which may no longer be in operation. The point of the write up is that a group of Chinese wizards is working to create a “Chinese Palantir. The group is hoodek up with Six Ring Technology. TenCent is providing some financing.

image

This may be the experts who are tackling the Palantir like system.

There is the challenge of seamlessly importing the file formats used by developers of cyINT eDiscovery systems. I have added it to mist of companies engaged in moving beyond Analyst’s Notebook and Gotham systems.

Stephen E Arnold, July 24,2017

Palantir Technologies: The Buzzfeed Beat

July 3, 2017

I read “There’s a Fight Brewing between the NYPD and Silicon Valley’s Palantir.” Two points about this story. Palantir Technologies, a vendor profiled in my CyberOSINT and Dark Web Notebook reports is probably going to keep its eye on the real journalistic outfit Buzzfeed. I don’t know much about “real” journalism, but my hunch is that if Palantir’s stakeholders find the Buzzfeed write up coverage interesting, some of those folks might spill their Philz coffee.

The other point is that the New York Police Department may find questions about its contractual dealings a bit of distraction from the quotidian tasks the force faces each day. I would not characterize “real” journalists asking questions “annoying,” but I would hazard the phrase “time consuming” or the word “distracting.”

image

“You want me to believe that?” asks Max, a skeptical show dog who knows that some owners will do anything to win.

The point of the “Fight Brewing” write up strikes me as a story designed to suggest that Palantir Technologies may be showing some signs of stress. When I read the story, I thought of the news which swirled around some of the defunct enterprise search companies when one of their client engagements went south. Vendors hit with these situations can do little but ride out the storm.

Hey, enterprise search was routinely oversold. When a system was up and running, the results were usually similar to the results generated by the previous “solution to all your information problems.” The search engineers who coded the systems knew that overpromising and under delivering were highly probable once the on switch was flipped. But the sales professional were going to say what was necessary to close the deal. In fact, most of the fancy promises about an enterprise search system set the company up for failure.

Is that what’s going on in the NYPD-Palantir “showdown”? To wit:

Palantir explained the system’s functions and outputs. The NYPD signed on. Then when the system was installed, additional work was needed to make the Palantir system meet the expectations set by the Palantir sales engineers.

The “Fight Brewing” story says:

The NYPD quietly began work last summer on its replacement data system, and in February it announced internally that it would cancel its Palantir contract and switch to the new system by the beginning of July, according to three people familiar with the matter. The new system, named Cobalt, is a group of IBM products tied together with NYPD-created software. The police department believes Cobalt is cheaper and more intuitive than Palantir, and prizes the greater degree of control it has over this system.

Keep in mind that I, before I retired in 2013, had been an adviser to the original i2 Group Ltd., the company which created in my opinion the analytic and visualization method which defines modern cyber eDiscovery in the 1990s.

The notion that IBM, which now owns i2’s Analyst’s Notebook, is working hard to close deals in key Palantir accounts from what I have heard in the general store in Harrod’s Creek.

I don’t have to go much farther than my own experience to get a sense that the “fight” may be a manifestation of how the world works when it comes to making sales for systems like Palantir’s Gotham or IBM’s i2. In my work career I have seen some interesting jabs and punches thrown to close a deal.

The NYPD, like any organization, wants systems which work and represent good value. Incumbent vendors have to find a way to retain a customer. Competitors have to find a way to get a licensee of one product to switch to a different product.

I noted this statement in the “Fight Brewing” story:

Palantir has struggled to expand its work with the police force, the emails show. As of March and April 2015, Palantir had had “little exposure to the top brass,” and although it wanted to add more business, “the door there clearly still remains closed given the larger political environment,” staffers wrote in emails. A staffer at one point invoked a phrase popularized by Thiel, author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, saying that Palantir still needed to get “from 0->1 at NYPD.”

Now how many police forces in the US can afford a comprehensive cyber eDiscovery system like Palantir Gotham or IBM Analyst’s Notebook? This is an important point because the number of potential customers is quite small. For example, after NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, and maybe three or four other cities, the sales professional runs out of viable prospects. How many counties can foot the bill for the software, the consultants, and the people required to tag and analyze the data? The number is modest. How many US states can afford the investment in high end cyber eDiscovery software? Again, the number is small, and you can count out Illinois because getting bills paid is an interesting challenge. The same market size problem exists for US government entities.

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