In a statement earlier this month, leftist hedge-fund manager George Soros disowned his own investment in Big Tech firm Palantir, whose supplying of data-mining software to organizations like the CIA have brought it under the microscope.
In the statement, released via Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the 90-year-old billionaire’s asset-management company, Soros Fund Management, said the fund “did not recently purchase shares in Palantir Technologies Inc.” and that it was still legally obligated to keep shares in the company.
“[Soros Fund Management’s] current interest in Palantir, which amounts to approximately one percent of the Class A (limited voting) shares of the company, is the result of a private early-stage investment made in 2012 by a portfolio manager who is no longer employed by SFM,” the Nov. 17 statement read.
“When Palantir converted to a public company, SFM’s interest was converted into shares in the public company. SFM has sold all shares in the company that it is not legally or contractually obliged to hold and will continue to sell shares as permitted.”
This is pretty dry stuff for a juicy topic. Palantir is basically everything correct-thinking people on both the right and the left can agree is dysfunctional about Big Tech.
Aside from the fact Palantir was founded by libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel, there’s not much to like about the secretive data analytics firm on the right, given a shadowy business model that revolves in part around mining private data.
According to Bloomberg, this includes searches by police departments that are “frequently ensnaring in the digital dragnet people who aren’t suspected of committing any crime.” It can track data like your Social Security number, driver’s license, bank account information and even your personal relationships, Vice reported.
The company works with a number of entities viewed as anathema to the left, as well. In addition to police departments, Palantir software has been used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track down illegal immigrants. A former software engineer with Cambridge Analytica — the political consulting firm behind a 2018 Facebook data-mining scandal that was connected to Donald Trump’s campaign — testified that the firm had worked with a Palantir employee.
Palantir denied this, telling Bloomberg it had turned down opportunities to collaborate with Cambridge Analytica and providing emails to prove it. One of its employees did work with Cambridge Analytica on his own time, however, Palantir said.
However politically unpopular Soros’ investment may be, it’s been profitable. According to CNBC, since Palantir went public earlier this year, its market capitalization has doubled to $32 billion. Soros’ firm owns 1 percent of Palantir’s stock, or roughly $300 million.
This is all in spite of the fact that Palantir isn’t profitable: “We have incurred losses each year since our inception, we expect our operating expenses to increase, and we may not become profitable in the future,” the company said in its prospectus in August, according to the New York Observer.
“We may not be able to sustain our revenue growth rate in the future.”
In 2019, the company posted a $588 million loss despite a 25 percent increase in revenue.
In the Nov. 17 statement, Soros’ firm said it “does not approve of Palantir’s business practices” and that it “made this investment at a time when the negative social consequences of big data were less understood.
“SFM would not make an investment in Palantir today,” the statement said.
This statement was made less than two weeks ago, which doesn’t quite make George Soros an early adopter of Palantir-adjacent outrage.
Both the testimony linking the firm to Cambridge Analytica and the Bloomberg article which reported extensively on the company’s troubling business model and privacy-defying tactics date from 2018.
A rough outline of this information was public knowledge as early as 2015, meanwhile, when a document leaked to TechCrunch made it clear the company wasn’t exactly on-brand for Soros.
And, while the name Palantir might not have rung too many bells for those who haven’t been reporting on Big Tech and data security issues, the secrecy around the Denver-based company’s products and data-mining models has been a subject of speculation for years.
It’s not too much to assume that, whatever his obligations to own Palantir stock may be, Soros has remained silent for some time knowing these facts. He remained silent right up until his investment in the company was reported. Had he decried Palantir when he found this out, color me impressed.
I’m (very literally) not in the business of giving George Soros credit, but if he rended his clothes and gnashed his teeth over Palantir’s practices when this was confined to stories on tech websites and Bloomberg investigative reports, both little read outside of certain circles, I’d have given him grudging respect.
All we can conclude from his statement is that he finds the company sufficiently creepy to disown the investment his own fund made when that investment was made public. Thanks for the effort, I suppose.
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