The following is based on the opinion of the author and not the viewpoint of Sanvada
As we all know by now, Facebook has been dealing with some very harsh criticism over its data mining efforts and failure to notify users properly of its actions. It’s gotten so bad even CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself in front of Congress last week answering questions ranging from password security to where this data is actually stored.
As we dig deeper into the current problems plaguing the social media network, it’s becoming clearer that Facebook may not be the biggest threat to our security out there. It’s actually one of the smaller players in the tech industry, Palantir, that knows more about us than even we know about ourselves.
Peter Thiel Knows Your Secrets
In 2004, Palantir, a data mining group, was founded by Peter Thiel and a few other members of his PayPal team. The firm started out working for the CIA and the Pentagon in the Middle East, and its thirst for data grew from there.
Palantir doesn’t exactly spy on us, but its systems are used to dissect the information gathered by the U.S. government or other clients it has a contract with. In essence, everything that is seen by government officials can also be seen by a group of individuals that, outside of work, live their lives like the rest of us civilians. And we the people? We have been none the wiser for the past 14 years.
The technology Palantir developed was seen as a godsend to the government and military. Keep in mind this was back in 2004, when we were still at the very beginning of the War on Terror. If there was a way to spy on the enemy, avoid attacks, steer clear of roadside bombs, and hunt down Osama bin Laden, then why not use it, right? The problem is we have come a long way since 2004 (for instance bin Laden is dead), so why are these tools still being used?
Palantir Doesn’t Rest, It Collects
It’s not just the U.S. government that has taken advantage of Palantir’s spy tools. Police departments in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also utilized its services. In many cases, these spying efforts have been used on citizens who weren’t even suspected of committing any crimes. Regular citizens’ phones were being tapped for the heck of it. Using the information collected from everyday citizens (which is A LOT of information), government and law enforcement officials are able to identify more than 50% of the adult population in the United States.
JPMorgan has also worked with Palantir in an effort to use the technology in the financial sector. The two firms joined forces to implement a product called Metropolis, a tool the bank used to spy on its own employees. As Metropolis was installed and refined, JPMorgan made an equity investment in Palantir and inducted the company into its Hall of Innovation, while its executives raved about Palantir in the press.
According to Guy Chiarello, who was JPMorgan’s chief information officer when Metropolis was first introduced, the system turned “data landfills into gold mines.” It allowed the company to sift through all of the information it had already collected, as well as collect much more, and use it to complete a foray of tasks.
Palantir worked side-by-side with JPMorgan’s threat group, which was led by former Secret Service agent Peter Cavicchia III. According to Bloomberg’s exposé, here’s how the process worked:
“Aided by as many as 120 ‘forward-deployed engineers’ from the data mining company Palantir Technologies Inc., which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations. Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analyzed these records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behavior that Cavicchia’s team had flagged for potential abuse of corporate assets. Palantir’s algorithm, for example, alerted the insider threat team when an employee started badging into work later than usual, a sign of potential disgruntlement. That would trigger further scrutiny and possibly physical surveillance after hours by bank security personnel.”
Peter Thiel’s Got Your Data And It Could Be Anywhere
After co-founding several different companies in the tech industry, Peter Thiel has made just as many friends as enemies, but even they know he holds power. His reach is long, and he knows the right people to protect him. Now he’s decided to take his influence to a whole new level.
Thiel has his eyes set on a new venture, a conservative media empire, and there’s really nothing stopping a man with a nearly limitless amount of money and resources.
He’s also got ties to nearly every other firm in the industry, whether directly or indirectly. After selling PayPal to Ebay Inc. in 2002, Thiel used his cut to invest in other companies. He was an early investor in Facebook and still sits on the board today (bringing the possibly unethical data collection full circle now). He’s worth $3.3 billion, and the majority of his fortune comes from knowing everything about you and I.
Information is money. Just ask the team at Palantir.