United Airlines has entered into an agreement with Peter Thiel’s data mining firm Palantir, making it the first airline company in the U.S. to do so. And given the scandalous history of Palantir, many believe that the current deal might again involve spying on people’s private data.
The United Airlines deal
The agreement with United Airlines includes deployment of the Palantir Foundry solution that will “speed up the enterprise-wide data initiatives across a range of critical business units as their central platform,” according to Business Wire. Both companies have been working on the project for the past year, trying to streamline the airline’s data sources into an integrated platform.
Business Wire goes on to quote Josh Harris, EVP of Palantir, as saying: “We try to ensure our software is helping transform the world’s most important institutions. We’re excited that United is the first airline in the U.S. to deploy the Foundry platform enterprise wide and to be working with such innovative partners that are eager to leverage data to transform the travel experience.”
The deal now gives Palantir complete access to the entire database of United Airlines. This includes the daily data involving 4,600 flights from 357 airports. Everything from the customer’s personal information to their flight history and their spending habits may be mined and used by Palantir.
As expected, this has raised some eyebrows among privacy advocates who believe that the customer’s data might get used by Palantir in questionable ways. And looking at the history of the company, such a view is understandable.
How Palanthir plays with user data
In 2009, JP Morgan hired an ex-secret service agent, Peter Cavicchia III, to spy on their own employees. Backed by 120 engineers from Palantir, Cavicchia’s team accumulated, sorted, and analyzed thousands of emails, chat histories, phone calls, and browsing history information for all employees at JP Morgan to identify any potential insider threat.
But eventually, Cavicchia went rogue and started spying on everyone at the company, even the bank’s senior executives. And that is when JP Morgan pulled the plug, shutting down the spying operation. It was one of the first incidents where the ability of Palantir being used as an excellent spying tool was fully manifested.
“The misadventure, which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir, one of the most richly valued startups in Silicon Valley. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home,” said an article at Bloomberg.
In 2017, Palantir was involved in an even bigger scandal. A whistle-blower from Cambridge Analytica had revealed that an employee from the data mining company was deeply involved in teaching the staff at Cambridge Analytica how to access information of Facebook users and use the information to manipulate them. Later, Palantir stated that the company itself had no involvement with Cambridge Analytica and that it was not responsible for the personal activities of its employees.
Palantir has been involved in multiple projects with U.S. police departments through which they have collected massive amounts of personal data about area residents. The aim of some of these projects is to identify behavior among citizens that might indicate the possibility of criminal activity. The company also has contracts with the NSA, whereby Palantir provides the software that allows the agency to literally spy on everyone on the planet.