Palantir (PLTR), the big data secret company co-founded by billionaire PayPal (PYPL) co-founder and Facebook (FB) investor Peter Thiel, will make its stock exchange debut via a direct listing on September 29 with a valuation estimated at $ 22 billion.
Much of what Palantir does and how it uses its data assets is opaque to all but the most devoted followers. Founded in 2004 with funding from the CIA’s non-profit venture capital arm In-Q-Tel, Palantir takes its name from the mystical spheres in J.R.R. Tolkien̵
This is not exactly far from how Palantir itself operates. It provides custom software to customers that analyze large amounts of data for purposes ranging from finding suspected criminals to improving companies’ production capabilities.
Palantir has sparked significant controversy due to his work with government agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and for Thiel’s support of President Donald Trump. There are also still questions about when it will make a profit. Like many tech unicorns that have recently gone public, Palantir has yet to make money, losing $ 580 million in 2018 and $ 579 million in 2019.
What is Palantir and who manages it?
Palantir has two main services that analyze data: Palantir Gotham and Palantir Foundry.
A custom option, Palantir Gotham is used by businesses, government agencies and law enforcement to combine information to uncover never-before-seen patterns and identify relationships between datasets ranging from social media posts and addresses to license plate numbers and personal relationships. The service therefore brings together all the contents in easy to understand tables and graphs.
Meanwhile, Foundry is a ready-made option that focuses on customers ranging from pharmaceutical and automotive companies to airlines like Airbus, and is aimed at reducing costs associated with Gotham, such as the need for more engineers on site.
Palantir offers a variety of what it calls solutions for different types of applications, be it automotive companies, defense industry, financial compliance, insurance, intelligence operations, law enforcement and others.
The company is led by billionaire co-founder and CEO Alex Karp. A Stanford Law School graduate, like Thiel, Karp has been running Palantir shortly after its inception. Prior to Palantir, Karp founded the money management company Caedmon Group.
Karp expressed his belief in the need for Silicon Valley companies to partner with the US government and law enforcement. In a 2019 interview with CNBC, Karp had indicated words for companies like Google (GOOG, GOOGL) that have withdrawn contracts with the government.
“This is a loser position. It is not intelligible. It is not understandable to the average person. It is not academically sustainable. And I am very happy that we are not on that side of the debate, “he said.
Victories and controversies
Palantir says its software has assisted companies and government agencies in everything from convicting Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, to disaster recovery, fighting cyberattacks and fighting child exploitation. There’s even an apocryphal story that the company’s technology was used to help locate Osama bin Laden.
Palantir says its technology was deployed in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in 2018 alongside Team Rubicon, an organization of military veterans responding to disaster areas. With Palantir’s Gotham Operations module, the group identified and responded to neighborhoods most in need of assistance.
Palantir also highlighted the use of his technology by the Center for Public Integrity and the Georgetown University Journalism Program for an investigation into the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by militants in Pakistan in 2007. The company claims the software helped identify 27 people who took part in Pearl’s kidnapping and killing, mapping their relationships and providing answers to questions surrounding her death.
The company also says its software has helped the US military track insurgents in Afghanistan by planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by finding correlations between weather patterns, wire-command IED attacks, and biometric information found on explosive devices.
The company says it also provided its software to the Salt Lake City Police Department, helping officers reduce the time it takes to carry out complex investigations by 95%.
Comparisons with “The Minority Report”
But Palantir has also seen its share of controversy in addition to the victories it procures. The huge amount of information that its software is able to track: license plate numbers; Social security numbers; social media accounts; addresses; bank documents; interpersonal relationships – led to confrontations with police thought crimes in “Minority Report”.
Palantir used that kind of predictive police model in New Orleans, according to The Verge. But predictive policing is controversial and, according to studies, can lead to increased surveillance of minorities and low-income communities.
And it’s not just fear of the size of its data collection. The company was also targeted by demonstrators and their employees for the work it does with ICE. After denying it worked with ICE’s deportation arm, Karp told CNBC in January 2020 that his company’s software was being used to “find undocumented people in our country.”
Previously, in July 2019, WNYC reported that ICE agents used Palantir’s Falcon mobile app during operations, including raids on nearly 100 7-11 stores across the United States in 2019.
And in May 2020, Karp told Axios that Palantir’s software was likely used to kill people in the military realm, but would not provide more details on who or how.
In the past, according to Bloomberg, Palantir has lost a number of partnerships with top-tier companies including Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and American Express due to the tech company’s high costs.
Those company defections don’t seem to hurt Palantir’s valuation.
For all that is still unknown about Palantir, it is almost certain that the company will receive a lot of attention as it tests public markets for the first time.
An earlier version of this story was released on July 8, 2020.
Do you have a suggestion? Email Daniel Howley at email@example.com by encrypted mail to the address firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.
More from Dan:
Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, SmartNews, LinkedIn, Youtube, is reddit.