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  • Writer's pictureAmit Kukreja

The Problem With The Guardian's Recent Palantir Article

Palantir is not liked by The Guardian, a news outlet in the UK. This is the second article they have wrote in the past two weeks framing the company in a negative light.

Here are the main points I want to focus on from the article,

"But the prospect of it setting up an overarching data platform for NHS England has alarmed Foxglove, a UK legal campaign group that focuses on accountability in the technology industry. Foxglove’s concerns, and those of similar organisations, centre on two aspects: the safety of patient data, and the nature of the company that will set up the data framework and seek to exploit it.

“A firm like that has no place being the ‘operating system for the NHS’ – period,” says Cori Crider, a director at Foxglove, who adds that the company “makes no secret of its desire to keep profiting from war and surveillance”.

Crider adds that there is not enough public information about the FDP, although documents have been circulated among would-be bidders. According to the documents, the main five-year contract for FDP is worth £360m and the platform will deliver £3.6bn in benefits over 10 years.

“We’ve got deeper concerns about this Federated Data Platform,” says Crider. “How much confidential patient data is going to be swept in, who is going to have access, and on what terms? It’s clearly not being built just for your GP – it will serve a host of other government officials. We’ve sent a legal letter seeking answers, and received almost no detail in return.”

First Issue: Exploiting Patient Data

While it is a valid concern to assume a private company shouldn't be able to have access to control sensitive patient data of citizens, the argument here is much more nuanced.

Palantir is getting more deals in Europe specifically BECAUSE of their commitment to things like GDPR regulation, consumer data, privacy, etc.

The entire reason the NHS even hired them was because they knew at a crucial time during the pandemic they needed a company that could execute the task while maintaining the integrity of sensitive patient data. This landed them a 2 year, 34M contract and began the relationship they have with the NHS today to land a longer term deal to overhaul the entire digital operations of the NHS into a strong platform.

Concerns over Palantir exploiting data are misplaced. The company was created in response to 9/11 as a way to help governments stop attacks while protecting civil liberties. That exact philosophy, which is why I write about it so much, is embedded within the technology of Palantir.

Here is an article explaining how this actually manifests itself with Palantir and how they think of innovation and replacing jobs.

Trying to frame them as a surveillance state that wants to exploit data without recognizing that they don't even own data unlike other tech giants but rather provide the tools for governments and companies to understand how to work with data shows a grave misinterpretation of what the company does.

It simply leads people to think such a horrible mischaracterization has more to do with an agenda against he company vs a genuine misunderstanding of something so obvious.

Second Issue: One Company Having Full Control

The second issue I have with the argument being put forth is that you can't have your cake and eat it too.

If the NHS is going to nationalize health care and keep all that sensitive data kept within the hands of the government, then the government needs to effectively operationalize that data.

The problem is, that's not what the government specializes in. While socialized healthcare seems like a strong idea, and for those in the UK it is something they deeply care about, the technical logistics of executing that type of system still requires some type of privatization.

Private companies that actually deal with creating technologies to manage and make sense of data with highly sophisticated and distinct data analytic technologies will win, not governments. It's the same reason Space X is doing far more than NASA has over the past 15 years. Both are important, but one is able to move quickly and incentivize people to innovate at the highest levels cine they are a private company and not a public entity.

As a result, the concern expressed above over "one company controlling data," is silly. We discussed why Palantir is probably the best company to have that control over sensitive data, but also it does not make sense to have many companies executing such task.

There's a common saying about having too many cooks in the kitchen. If you have 17 different companies all trying to help the NHS make sense of billions of points of data around vaccinees, immunization, supply chains, etc. then it will just become a mess.

Having one company and giving them the freedom to actually execute and build such a platform is the value of actually doing due diligence and taking the time to pick the right company for the task.

The government cannot be in charge of everything and then not outsource the most complex tasks to companies that specialize in it. If you are going to hire a private firm to do the hard work of data management, it should be a firm you have complete trust in, giving them the freedom to actually execute the tasks needed to get the job done.

The Guardian unfortunately does not understand anything about Palantir.

Here is a video of me discussing these issues:

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