It was when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out that many people first heard the name of Palantir Technologies. And that is kind of surprising since the company literally offers one of the most powerful tools for data collection and analysis in the world.
Palantir remains a very secretive company and was named so by its founder Peter Thiel after the powerful crystal ball from the Lord of The Rings trilogy. So, what does Palantir do?
“We’re focused on creating the world’s best user experience for working with data, one that empowers people to ask and answer complex questions without requiring them to master querying languages, statistical modeling, or the command line. To achieve this, we build platforms for integrating, managing, and securing data on top of which we layer applications for fully interactive human-driven, machine-assisted analysis,” Palantir describes itself on its website.
Palantir was first used as a tool to aid U.S. forces in its wars in Afghanistan, helping the military to predict the exact location of bombs before they went off. But the tool turned out to be so useful and effective that many government departments and industries started using it. Palantir’s technology has been used to unify databases of U.S. intelligence agencies and has successfully been implemented in thwarting a massive cyber-attack by the Chinese government.
Palantir’s Foundry is its most popular offering and is described as a tool that can be used to source, fuse, and transform data for any purpose as desired. “In Foundry, tables, applications, reports, presentations, and spreadsheets operate as data integrations in their own right. Access controls, transformation logic, and data quality flow from the original data source to intermediate analysis to the presentation in real time. Every end product created in Foundry becomes a new data source that other users can build upon. And the enterprise data foundation goes where the business drives it,” Palantir explains about the product.
Palantir’s tools are today used by a large number of businesses across multiple industries. In the consumer sector, Hershey’s uses Palantir to understand their market and predict purchasing trends to adjust their promotional strategies. By using Palantir, Hershey’s was able to discover that its chocolate sales increased if the product was kept next to marshmallows.
Zurich Insurance uses Palantir’s data mining capabilities to identify the right price to charge for its policies. First Data, a payment processing company, also relies on Palantir’s tools. The data mining company teamed up with First Data on a product called Insightics that sorts through the massive credit card data of the company and provides advice to small businesses regarding market decisions. For instance, Insightics can check credit card data of people from a location and instruct a small business owner as to whether opening a new store in the region will be profitable or not.
Palantir is also heavily contracted by the U.S. government for various purposes. It has developed a tool for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that allows the agency to conduct large-scale spying on almost the entire global population. The company also has agreements with certain U.S. police departments, allowing law enforcement authorities to predict crimes before they happen. And with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, Palantir works to produce risk assessment reports on travelers, helping the agency identify individuals who might be a threat to the U.S.