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Google and Palantir Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
by Will Oremus
Posted April 29, 2021

Plantir being used by governments to obtain data without warrantsIf you know the name Palantir, you probably know that it’s associated with Peter Thiel, that it contracts with defense and law enforcement agencies, and that it works with data somehow, including data from surveillance systems. You might get that it’s named, creepily enough, after the magical “seeing-stones” in Lord of the Rings.

But what exactly it is that Palantir does has not always been clear from media coverage. That’s partly because the company has intentionally cultivated an air of secrecy and mystery around its work. But it’s also partly because the actual nature of its work is somewhat murky and hard to pin down, even once you know what it is.

On Thursday, Palantir went public in a direct listing, completing a transition from a shadowy Silicon Valley unicorn to one that must answer quarterly to investors and regulators. Its shares dipped just a bit from their initial price but left the company with a hefty valuation on the order of $20 billion, per the Wall Street Journal. That’s remarkable for a company that has just 125 customers.

Enterprise software companies tend to stay out of the spotlight; their products are not used, let alone beloved, by the masses, as are those of consumer software giants such as Google. But Palantir in particular is worth knowing about, because it embodies a vision of technology’s role in society that carries profound implications for all of us. More…