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This article was published on September 18, 2019

Peter Thiel’s Palantir set to delay IPO under bumbling leadership of CEO Alex Karp

Peter Thiel’s Palantir set to delay IPO under bumbling leadership of CEO Alex Karp
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Bloomberg today reported that Palantir Technologies, a Peter Thiel-founded company that builds mass-surveillance solutions for law enforcement agencies, will delay its highly-anticipated IPO indefinitely. According to the report, CEO Alex Karp needs more time to woo foreign investors.

Thiel’s also reportedly sent a memo to employees indicating they shouldn’t expect the company to IPO within “the next three years.” That doesn’t necessarily mean it will IPO then, just that whatever business plan the company’s executives are working off now has changed from what appeared to be a sure bet for at least a $20 billion initial offering to…  holding off for now.

We’re not sure if this is good news yet (and that depends entirely on your point of view). Unfortunately there’s simply not enough information to determine exactly what factors are playing into the decision – Palantir didn’t immediately answer our requests for comment and other outlets report the same. There’s certainly plenty to speculate about, however.

For those unfamiliar with Palantir Technologies, it’s a company that purports to make software that can “predict” crime. It’s also one of the companies directly supporting the use of unconstitutional mass-surveillance techniques by ICE and other law enforcement agencies in the US. Despite the fact that Trump’s administration has paid the company about $1.5 billion so far, it’s never turned a profit.

Unfortunately, that probably has nothing to do with why the IPO is being delayed. It’s possible that Palantir’s business model (think: George Orwell’s 1984) is shifting to include a more international perspective. Fascism and mass-surveillance have had a Travolta-esque comeback around the globe over the past few years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Palantir set up shop with any government that dabbles in dictatorship.

There’s also the possibility that investors are wary of the impending 2020 presidential elections. We’re little more than a year out and Trump’s made no apparent inroads outside of his core base. There’s a high likelihood that any US president, aside from Trump or those inextricably tied to the hardcore Conservative Nationalist movement, will take steps to repeal law enforcement’s privacy-smashing surveillance methods. And that’s something that could seriously hurt Palantir’s bottom line.

Another thing that threatens to undermine Palantir’s viability as a company that could eventually turn a profit is inept leadership. CEO Alex Karp’s ‘aw shucks’ style revelation to Business Insider that he’s a terrible negotiator due to his sterling honesty and up-front nature smacks of the job-interviewee who says their biggest flaw is that they take too much pride in their work, but it’s his own writing that threatens to paint him as both a shill and a buffoon.

He recently penned the worst op-ed to feature the word “Google” in the title since James Damore’s infamous hate screed against women in tech. In this ridiculous Washington Post article (really WaPo?), Karp tries to convince readers that Google choosing which government projects it will or won’t work on is bad, and that corporations should be better comrades and support all of Great Leader’s decisions with unwavering, patriotic assimilation into the state’s grand scheme.

He words it differently, but that’s basically what he’s saying when he has the audacity to type ridiculous rhetoric like:

Let me be brutally clear about this: The young people who volunteer for the Marines and get deployed overseas might not agree with every mission, but you can be sure they are doing their jobs. Google earned millions of dollars working on Project Maven, an artificial-intelligence and machine-learning effort funded by the Defense Department with the potential to improve the military’s drone accuracy and capabilities. Some of the company’s workers objected — no problem there. But then Google executives backed away from the mission. The U.S. Marine serves; the Silicon Valley executives walk. This is wrong.

Comparing obligated service under oath to free enterprise is both offensive and stupid. Marines – a group I’m honored to count among the brothers in arms I served with for a decade as a sailor in the US Navy – sacrifice their freedom so that citizens won’t have to. Our military service members choose to serve in protection of the rights that companies like Palantir are so cavalier with. To use their heroic sacrifice as a conduit to defend what his company does is reprehensible.

Those who’ve never served should refrain from opining on the motivations of those who have; there’s a word for billionaires like Karp who are all too happy to exploit the very warriors that protect his right to do so. 

In reality, Palantir sells products that skirt the law in order to enable mass-surveillance. Its real value depends entirely on how willing the public is to accept the premise that illegal immigrants and non-white citizens are more of a threat to our society than having no privacy.

It seems like like a smart idea for Karp, Thiel, and potential investors to bide their time until they can be sure America will still be “great” for Palantir if a president who isn’t a white Nationalist gets elected in 2020.

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