Mark Zuckerberg’s simulacra spoke to congress today. It was tasked with explaining how 80 million Facebook users data was misappropriated and weaponized to help elect Trump and other disturbing ends via use of Military Predictive Software on civilians. Aside from making everyone misty about Tom from MySpace he essentially came off like a prototype for Star Trek’s Mr Data.
Oh yeah and we might have seen the birth and documentation of some new form or War Crime against all of us with Facebook used as a carrier for nematode-like data-mining. Metamorphizing when activated by someone who wants to know what their Jedi name would be (or any number of other stupid quiz topics) it finds and weaponizes every little thing that Palantir wants to know.
One thing that came up in an ominous way, and something Zuckerberg lied about not knowing about, was a Tech Data Company using the Tolkien term Palantir as its name. So who the Fuck are these Palantir Technologies people?
Something of a “Cambridge Analytica” in its own right the company name is from the Lord of the Rings. The Palantir are several magical bowling bowl sized stone orbs that allow the holders to speak from distance provided they have the Right and the Will to use the them. If you’re not that worthy or willful you can be twisted and changed by using it to contact someone who has more power than you. In the books it’s the downfall of a one time good guy when he uses one to try to deal with the ultimate bad guy, Sauron. After a couple of conversations with Sauron the good guy, Saruman, is broken and becomes an agent of Evil. So they basically named themselves after a malignant form of communication that undermines ones individuality. So at least false advertising not a claim we can put against them, right?
That Zuckerberg was unaware of Palantir is sort of hard to believe considering it was the property of Pay-Pal Co-Founder, Facebook investor and Trump-Lovin’ MAGA Hat owner, Peter Thiel (Billionaire!). Now that I have some idea what they’re all about I would have denied it too.
Founded in 2004 seems they start out selling their services to the US Military to predict terrorist and insurgent behavior. Apparently they had enough success at this that by 2013 they manage to sell these same services to the Los Angeles Police Department to predict crime.
In a moment of true perception the The Guardian published an article that compared them to the Powerful but Flawed Pre-Crime Computers from the Philip K Dick science fiction tale “Minority Report”. The writer referenced the movie several times. Truth is the people from Palantir look good when they can identify crime hot spots, but they start playing god by unscrupulously re-selling the data to the highest bidder, or it seems, to any bidder.
A company so secretive that in 2013 they had no office, just something in Palo Alto called a SCIF. Consider it a situation room for aspiring Bond Villains as the Palantir people start to dive deeper and deeper into murky corners of our data footprints that speak to its algorithms.
It’s time to consider that people have been killed or thrown in jail by data and predictions from the Palantir people. Maybe they all deserved it. Certainly the jailed individuals had their day in court but the point is Palantir isn’t involved in small stakes operations. They will take money to make predictions that will then have a direct effect on things like where Military or Police resources get allocated. Thats a big deal.
So next Palantir is using methods gleaned from the occupation of Iraq and in West Coast US Law Enforcement to predict and shape behavior with a bunch of innocuous looking quizzes that you or your friends might be tempted to take on Facebook.
Trojan Horse doesnt begin to cover it (and has a tech connotation all its own anyway) but through a series of deceptive underhanded moves enabled by the allegedly naive Facebook people they decide they have enough to determine the outcome of an election. In it purely for the money they probably broke a bunch of laws in spirit as well as substance.
This being a mercantilist society the Palantir people did what the machine gun people did. They looked for new markets for their military product. Dressed up as the same sort of lucky break that improved all video games the moment the Cold War ends and frees tech minds from military tasks the Palantir people cynically dove in to any platform they could exploit.
So they turned to Facebook. Facebook was focused on all the wrong threats, like denial of service attacks and to their credit it seems theyve never fallen victim to one of consequence. Rather than a fake profile Trolling approach the Palantir people simply break in and take everything they want by exploiting ambiguities in the Facebook user agreement and vulnerabilities in the Facebook code. Since they were throwing Russian money at Zuckerberg with a snowshovel, possibly through shell corporations, he didn’t think too hard or look too deeply at what the Palantir people were doing. Now, if we’re to believe Mr Data, he’s sorry he was so naive.
Had Palantir acquired the information with binoculars through a window looking at your desk no cop would take “But the drapes were open” as an excuse for fraud and being a Peeping Tom. Thats the Gray Area in a nutshell. Since theres no Internet Law Enforcement Agency they just went ahead and did it. It’s probably going to end up being something illegal in the future, once our lawmakers learn to use smartphones!
Will they be stopped? If they are it wont be soon, and theres already lots of damage. The Palantir peoples model may not be perfect, theres a lot yet to be found out about them, but they had enough insight to be part of the 10 for 10 in Toss Up states record Trump had on election night.
The micro-targeting and emotional manipulation they unleashed on Facebook users may have been enough to change things. If it changed eve one state it made Trump President.
The people from Palantir are not unlike Saruman, the once good Wizard who abuses the eponymous magic Palantir in Lord of the Rings. They were able to put on a pleasing voice and seduce people into clicking away their data (and that of their friends). At the end of the final book Saruman meets his end at the hands of one of his henchmen after nearly destroying the once pristine homeland of the Hobbits, which he turned into a Middle Earth version of the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Real World Palantir Corporation may just be done in by congress for wrecking America and it’s still to be determined the level of damage they have done and what the Fuck they are up to now.