Palantir Technologies has denied, sort of, that it is involved in the massive PRISM scandal, in which the National Security Agency was found to have gotten access to massive amounts of user data from companies like Microsoft, Google, Verizon, and Apple. Some reporters believe this denial. I do not.
Talking Points Memo reintroduced us all to Palantir Technologies, a data-collecting semi-private intelligence service that may or may not have been involved with the mass collection of data from private citizens by the National Security Agency. The NSA’s program is called PRISM. Palantir has a program called Prism. Connections were made.
Despite the fact that Palantir Technologies is a CIA-funded intelligence-gathering organization, and that a major part of the company’s business involves analyzing and visualizing mass datasets, despite that the company works with military and intelligence organizations, despite that the company once made a PowerPoint in which it discussed how to silence journalists, despite the fact that this is a massive corporation with offices in Washington, DC, London, Singapore, New York City, and Abu Dhabi, among others–Palantir is still a Silicon Valley company. And so you should absolutely ignore everything said by the Silicon Valley press, especially this ludicrous post from TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis.
Palantir is based in Palo Alto. It was funded by Peter Thiel, a legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist. It is a Silicon Valley success, and those heavily invested in Silicon Valley’s reputation and success, like TechCrunch (which both covers and, through the indirectly related CrunchFund venture capital firm, invests in Silicon Valley startups–yeah, I know), are completely unwilling to criticize it. Tsotsis’s post relies on a stock statement from Palantir, which I also received, in response to a request for comment. Here it is:
Palantir’s Prism platform is completely unrelated to any US government program of the same name. Prism is Palantir’s name for a data integration technology used in the Palantir Metropolis platform (formerly branded as Palantir Finance). This software has been licensed to banks and hedge funds for quantitative analysis and research.
Like every other statement from the private companies involved in PRISM, this statement is constructed entirely of loopholes, like an official Olympic logo where each ring is another perfect half-truth. (These statements, by the way, share specific phrases, like “direct access,” making it seem almost as if they’re collaborating on them.) Is Palantir’s Prism platform related to the government’s PRISM project? Probably not! That would be sort of an obvious giveaway for a classified NSA project. But that’s not the question, anyway, or at least, it’s not what I asked. What I asked was, was Palantir involved in any way with the government’s PRISM program? The response to that, with punctuation intact:
No Palantir is not involved and had no knowledge prior to the press
TechCrunch didn’t even follow up to this extent, instead believing an obviously misdirecting stock quote from a company so shifty that nobody really knows what they do. Their article’s headline insists that, well, Palantir says their own Prism program isn’t the same as the NSA’s PRISM program. Therefore everyone shut up. This is not even a subtle half-truth! It’s an answer to a mostly irrelevant question!
Even more insane: Tsotsis writes that “it is apparently already causing the startup recruitment damage on Hacker News.” _She is worried that media attention on this scary company will alert young employees to the fact that it is a scary company.”
(The original headline of Tsotsis’s post, by the way, was “Despite Naming Coincidence, Palantir Not Part Of PRISM Program.” It now reads: “Despite Naming Coincidence, Palantir Says It’s Not Part Of PRISM Program.” It’s better now.)
The other problem: do we trust the public relations response to our questions? What real motivation does Matt Long, spokesman for Palantir, have to tell me the truth? What pressure can I really put on him that can’t be easily outweighed by what his employer or the government is capable of?
Do not trust anybody who takes any explanation of the PRISM story from one of its principals at face value. They have absolutely no reason to be forthright and honest with us. Palantir may indeed not be associated with PRISM, despite all the circumstantial evidence. But! The fact that they say they’re not associated with PRISM is hardly evidence.