Who are Palantir's commercial customers

Ministry of Health examines the services of controversial big data company Palantir

Silicon Valley is now also speaking out in Austria: The US data analysis company Palantir is offering its software to the local government to curb the spread of Covid-19. The promise that goes with it: This should make health systems more efficient. The Federal Chancellery has confirmed the talks, the STANDARD. These originated from the company. The Ministry of Health is reviewing the offer, it is said. The company is already active in other countries, such as Germany and Great Britain.

Investor CIA

Palantir is a company that is surrounded by a mysterious aura. This has mainly to do with the fact that it was founded in 2004 with CIA money. The US secret service invested two million dollars in the start-up. It is one of those corporations that do business primarily with the so-called three-letter authorities. So with the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The US secret services have relied primarily on electronic surveillance since 2001.

Naturally, there is a huge "haystack" of information. Palantir helps companies with special software to identify the proverbial needle in the haystack. Big data should therefore be reduced to "useful" data.

Kurz met founder

At the beginning of the year, Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) met a company founder Palantir during a trip to Silicon Valley, and there was also contact at the end of January at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In this country, the name of the company is particularly common because the former federal manager of the SPÖ, Laura Rudas, was hired in 2015. Palantir himself states that his services could be used to analyze the distribution, for example, or to make predictions - for example, whether a hospital's equipment is in danger of becoming scarce.

"Stop Corona", an app recently published by the Red Cross, is becoming more and more central in the government's monitoring considerations. It functions as a kind of contact diary in which personal encounters are saved with a "digital handshake" - anonymized according to the Red Cross. If someone develops symptoms or tests positive, you will receive a notification.

App - if voluntary - unproblematic

Briefly mentioned the app again and again in connection with big data, the government expects the use of such aids to contribute to containment. However, the first user reviews were skeptical - so the practicality is called into question. For example, if you go shopping, you would have to ask everyone in your environment whether they would like to carry out a "handshake", which seems rather unrealistic. The Red Cross has already announced that an optional automation of this "handshake" should be possible in the future, but that this still has to be checked under data protection law.

The opinions of privacy advocates about the app are mixed. The tenor: As long as "Stop Corona" remains completely voluntary, it is unproblematic. But if, for example, loosening of the exit restrictions are tied to them, it could become legally problematic. "The magic words are consent, being informed and voluntary," says Nikolaus Forgó from the University of Vienna when asked by STANDARD. "If the government were to make something like this mandatory, it would have to create a legal basis. And there are major reservations," said the legal IT specialist.

Anonymous or pseudonymous?

Anonymous tracking is also not possible at all, as the data protection officer Max Schrems explains: You are assigned an ID number, which is correspondingly pseudonymisation. The disclosure of information is also anonymized, but the processing at the Red Cross is not, as the data protection expert Iwona Laub from the fundamental rights NGO Epicenter Works recently criticized in an interview with STANDARD. Finally, data such as sick leave and mobile phone number are processed. All over the world, states are increasingly relying on the monitoring of cell phone data. This is a growing concern for privacy advocates and human rights activists, they fear permanent encroachment on fundamental rights.

Telecommunications provider A1 continues to deliver anonymized analyzes to the government on a daily basis. Cellular data can be used to determine whether their output restrictions are being adhered to. Yes, it is called on the part of A1. There is a stable decline in mobility. (Muzayen Al-Youssef, Markus Sulzbacher, April 1st, 2020)