Palantir confirm employee shall include participation in a personal capability with the company
Palantir, the US data analytics firm, has admitted that one of its employees” shall include participation in a personal capacity” with Cambridge Analytica, the company that obtained the Facebook data of 50 million US voters, in an apparent deviation from previous denials of any relationship.
Christopher Wylie, the former research director of Cambridge Analytica, told a parliamentary investigation into online disinformation that” senior Palantir employees” had obtained the data at the heart of the privacy scandal that has engulfed the social media company.
A Palantir spokesperson initially denied Wylie’s allegations in their totality.” Palantir has never had a relationship with Cambridge Analytica nor have we ever worked on any Cambridge Analytica data ,” she said.
But just hours later the firm conceded it had learned that one of its employees had in fact approached the company, following questions from the Guardian and the New York Times.
In a second statement, Palantir reiterated that had never had a formal relationship with Cambridge Analytica. It said:” We were approached by individuals from Cambridge Analytica on multiple occasions, but we declined to move forward.
” As a matter of company policy, we do not and have never worked on or been involved with elections or political campaigns anywhere in the world.
” We learned today that an employee, in 2013 -2 014, engaged in an entirely personal capability with people associated with Cambridge Analytica. We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action .”
The admission is an embarrassing volte-face for the secretive firm, which had denied any relationship whatsoever with Cambridge Analytica in a statement posted to the Observer last year.
The Facebook data at the heart of the scandal was originally obtained by an academic named Aleksandr Kogan, who constructed a survey app called ” thisismydigitallife “. In addition to collecting information from survey respondents, the app obtained data from friends of respondents.
Kogan, who was believed to have obtained data on around 50 m Facebook profiles through the app, subsequently set up a company called Global Science Research, which shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.
The Guardian has seen emails that appear to show a developer discussing the possibility of replicating the work of a University of Cambridge professor and encouraging people to take a personality survey.
The emails appear to show the developer, who has previously described himself as working with Palantir, discussing the subject with Wylie.
” I had[ a] left field notion ,” the developer wrote in a May 2014 email.” What about replicating the work of the Cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to Facebook? For example compare your personality to your friends app or some other spin to entice people to take a test .”
A second email dated July 2014 appears to show the same developer asking another academic if you are able to” share some Facebook credentials with me( user/ pass)- I need to test our version of the app ?”
The academic responded with a URL referencing Kogan’s personality survey and a phrase that included his initials.
In his testimony before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, Wylie had claimed that they had several meetings with Palantir and that the firm had informal access to the Kogan data.
” There were senior Palantir employees that were also working on the Facebook data ,” he said.” That was not an official contract between Palantir and CA, but there were Palantir staff who would come into the office and work on the data. And we would go and meet with Palantir staff at Palantir .”
Wylie used to say Alexander Nix, the chief executive of SCL, was interested in Palantir’s work and that when he joined SCL, one of the first emails he received was asking him about Palantir.
Nix was suspended from his position at Cambridge Analytica last week following an undercover sting by Channel 4 News in which he was filmed describing how the firm could use blackmail against clients’ political opponents.
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