‘Secretive’ data company Palantir files to go public

Palantir has confidentially filed to go public, paving the way for investors to take a stake in the historically shadowy big data company founded by Trump donor Peter Thiel. 

The data analysis software company, which runs its European operations from London, submitted a draft registration with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday evening. 

It could be the largest technology company, reportedly worth $20bn, to go public since Uber.

Rumours had been swirling in recent days after the company added a woman to its board, in line with California’s rules on representation among public companies. Alexandra Wolfe Schiff, resigned as a Wall Street Journal reporter to join the board. 

It will have pipped Airbnb to the post, after the home sharing company was widely expected to be the next large technology company to debut on the public market. The past three months have proven volatile for many companies thanks to the pandemic but the virus has brought Airbnb to its knees after travel and leisure dried up. 

Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, CIA-funded Palantir began as a piece of fraud detection software built by PayPal co-founder Thiel. In 2003, Thiel repackaged the tool as a system that could be useful for the finance industry but was widely adopted by defence and government departments in the US and the UK.

Palantir has several contracts with the British military worth tens of millions and is helping crunch data for the NHS to better understand the spread of Covid-19. 

It offers two products: Gotham and Foundry, to companies like Airbus, BP, manufacturers and advertisers.

Foundry is currently being used by the NHS to collate lab test results, hospital and supply chain data to work out which hospitals need beds, ventilators and PPE.

The platform is largely engineered in its Soho offices, which is home to 600 employees.  Running its UK division is Louis Mosley, the nephew of the former motor racing boss Max Mosley and grandson of Sir Oswald Mosley.

The company is divisive in its mission and is often portrayed as a villain among the do-gooder Silicon Valley software engineers. This is largely due to its unpopular government contracts including military and border control in the US, where Palantir software is used to help officials round up undocumented migrants by using surveillance data.  It is also seen as a secretive operation because many of its customers want their business to remain confidential.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie in 2017 claimed that Palantir employees had asked him for data obtained through Facebook, and said that it was a Palantir employee who suggested that Cambridge Analytica masquerade as a quiz app to get access to user data. Facebook said it found no evidence that Palantir employees had abused Facebook user data and Palantir denied the allegations, claiming that the employee who helped Wylie was acting outside of his work with the company. 

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