Ever since news broke last week that the National Security Agency and FBI are tapping into the servers of U.S. Internet companies, Silicon Valley stalwarts have insisted they’re not helping the government spy on you. That hasn’t stopped some pundits from theorizing that Palantir Technologies, the quiet and fast-growing Palo Alto startup, could be behind the whole thing.
Palantir, after all, is known to count among its clients the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, who use the company’s data-crunching software to pull together information from a host of databases. (The company’s roots are based in technology developed during PayPal’s early days to ward off money launderers.) And, at least one blogger trumpeted in an “ah-HA!” moment, Palantir’s product offerings include database-management software called … Prism.
Unfortunately, the whole conspiracy theory appears to be a dud — and a case of unfortunately coincidental branding. When I asked the company if there was any connection to the NSA effort, I was emailed this statement:
“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.”
Lastly, it’s worth noting that Peter Thiel, the former PayPal CEO who co-founded Palantir, hardly seems like the kind of guy who’d give the feds unbridled access to everybody’s data, considering that he’s an avowed libertarian. Palantir itself has taken pains to point out that its software is all about visualizing data and observing patterns — and that the banks, hedge funds and law enforcement agencies (not to mention the non-profits) that use the software maintain control over that data, rather than keeping it in some shadowy Silicon Valley repository.