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UK government ends data deal with ‘spy tech’ company Palantir

Peter Thiel, co-founder and chairman of Palantir Technologies Inc., pauses during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty ImagesFollowing protests from privacy groups, the UK government has ended a contentious data-sharing pact with Palantir, a US software corporation.

In August, the Department of Health and Social Care published a tender to replace Palantir’s Adult Social Care Dashboard with EDGE, a new system developed by BAE Systems, a British defense company.

“The future UK Health Security Agency Architecture … is seeking to move away from reliance on third party data analytics platforms and software,” the tender reads.

“DHSC wishes to migrate from the current Palantir solution to the EDGE (Environment for Data Gathering and Engineering) system. This system was established and developed by BAE Systems for DHSC (and it) was progressed at pace during the pandemic.”

According to public documents, the proposal was won by London-based IT consultant Mozaic Services, which would receive £100,000 ($138,000) for completing the conversion. The project began on August 18 and will last through September 30, when Palantir’s contract will automatically renew.

Bloomberg was the first to report that the deal had been terminated.

Palantir is a data analytics platform that is used by government departments, espionage agencies, and corporations all around the world. It was founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist who also sits on Facebook’s board of directors.

During the coronavirus pandemic, it noticed a spike in demand for its software as countries tried to make sense of their health data. The United Kingdom, for example, employed Palantir’s technology and experience to try to make sense of the massive amounts of Covid-19 data it gathered. In December 2020, it was awarded a two-year contract that has yet to be canceled.

As part of an effort to protect patient privacy, Palantir claims that patient data is “pseudonymized” before it is processed by the software. The data management strategy entails replacing the original data set with a pseudonym or alias. It is, however, a reversible procedure that allows for re-identification if necessary, and some have questioned whether it goes far enough to secure people’s personal data.

In June, a campaign was launched to prevent Palantir from cooperating with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. “Their background has generally been in contracts where people are harmed, not healed,” argued  Cori Crider, the lawyer who co-founded Foxglove.

Palantir has “appalling track record,” according to Clive Lewis, Labour Party member of Parliament and one of the campaign’s backers.

Palantir also has contracts with the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defense in the United Kingdom.

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