Technology

The UK terminates one among its information trade agreements with Palantir

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Peter Thiel, co-founder and chairman of Palantir Technologies Inc., takes a break during a press conference in Tokyo, Japan on Monday, November 18, 2019.

Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The UK government has ended a controversial data-sharing agreement with US technology company Palantir following criticism from privacy activists.

The Department of Health and Welfare launched a tender in August to move its adult welfare dashboard from Palantir to a new system called EDGE, built by British defense giant BAE Systems.

“The future architecture of the UK Health Safety Authority … seeks to break away from its dependence on third-party data analysis platforms and software,” says the tender.

“DHSC would like to migrate from the current Palantir solution to the EDGE system (Environment for Data Gathering and Engineering). This system was set up and developed by BAE Systems for DHSC (and it was pushed forward rapidly during the pandemic. “

The tender was won by London-based IT consultant Mozaic Services, who, according to public records, will receive £ 100,000 (US $ 138,000) to complete the migration. The project started on August 18th and will run until September 30th, at which point the contract with Palantir would have been extended automatically.

“The adult welfare dashboard is an add-on to the existing NHS contract and will transition to a monthly basis from September 2021,” a Palantir spokesman told CNBC. “Palantir will be looking for further opportunities to work with DHSC, including upcoming tenders.”

The news that the contract was terminated was first reported by Bloomberg. The Department of Health and Welfare did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist based on Facebook’s board of directors, Palantir makes its data analytics platform available to government agencies, espionage agencies and corporations around the world.

During the coronavirus pandemic, demand for its software soared as nations tried to glean insights from health data. The UK, for example, used Palantir’s technology and expertise to try to understand the vast amounts of Covid-19 data being collected. In December 2020, it received a two-year contract that is still pending.

According to Palantir, patient data is “pseudonymized” before it is processed by the software to protect patient privacy. The data management technique involves changing the original record with an alias or pseudonym. However, it is a reversible process that allows re-identification if necessary, and some have questioned whether it goes far enough to protect people’s private information.

A campaign was launched in June to prevent Palantir from working with the UK’s National Health Service. “Her background has generally been in contracts where people are hurt, not healed,” argued Cori Crider, the attorney who co-founded Foxglove.

Clive Lewis, a Labor MP and a supporter of the campaign, accused Palantir of having “an appalling track record”.

“It built its business to support drone and missile strikes, raids and arrests of immigrants, not the delivery and supply of medicines,” Lewis told CNBC. “It has a questionable agenda and I think that will have a negative impact on patient confidence, especially in minority communities that may feel threatened by major government.”

Palantir also has contracts with the UK Cabinet Office and the Department of Defense.

Correction: The headline and text of this story have been updated to better describe the current state of the contract.

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