Back in 2014 start-up company Cambridge Analytica was looking for a way to obtain private Facebook data from tens of millions of American Facebook users. To accomplish this difficult task Cambridge Analytica got help from one or more employees at Palantir Technologies, a top Silicon Valley company which has done top-secret work for the NSA, the CIA and the Pentagon.
According to The New York Times, a Palantir employee in London worked closely with data scientists at Cambridge Analytica to build a new technology app that did psychological profiling. The Palantir employee told the Cambridge Analytica people they could create their own app to (illegally) gain access to the friend networks of Facebook users. They followed up on this suggestion and, working with Palantir, built a a mobile-phone-based personality quiz that was wildly successful in helping them gain illicit access to Facebook data.
On Tuesday, in London, former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie testified to members of the U.K. Parliament that employees at Palantir were very involved in helping Cambridge Analytica build algorithms using the Facebook data.
It is not an overstatement to say that without Palantir’s help Cambridge Analytica may have never been able to build an app which so successfully harvested Facebook data.
Palantir has of course publicly disputed Wylie’s claims. The company said that Cambridge Analytica wanted to work with them given their track record and stellar reputation of doing similar work for U.S. intelligence agencies. They were contacted on “multiple occasions” Palantir said, but they always refused the requests. On Tuesday, however, the company admitted that a Palantir employee did help Cambridge Analytica.
“We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica. We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action,” Palantir spokeswoman Lisa Gordon said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
So Palantir is now claiming just the one employee did this, acting in “an entirely personal capacity.” But whistleblower Wylie testified that there were multiple senior Palantir employees working on the Cambridge Analytica project.
These new revelations have dragged the secretive Palantir into the public controversies concerning the improper harvesting of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica. Of course they then used this data to build analytical tools and they were hired by the Trump campaign to do psychological profiling of voters. By targeting key voters in swing states Cambridge Analytica executives claim they played a major role in electing Trump president.
Co-founded in 2004 by Facebook board member Peter Thiel, Palantir aggregates information from many sources throughout the world wide web, and then finds patterns in data which are overlooked by human beings. Thiel is a high-profile Trump supporter and spoke on the president’s behalf at the Republican National Convention in 2016.
Palantir maintains that it has never done political work even though founder Thiel has been heavily involved in right-wing politics.
“As a matter of company policy, we do not and have never worked on or been involved with elections or political campaigns anywhere in the world,” the company said in a statement.
Trump friend and right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel has now been shown to be a common link connecting Palantir, Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign. Don’t be surprised if he gets a call from Bob Mueller very soon to come talk to the special counsel’s team.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.