technology

Peter Thiel’s Palantir Says Rogue Employee Engaged With Cambridge Analytica

The data-mining startup says it never worked with Cambridge Analytica, but one employee had
Updated on

The offices of Cambridge Analytica in London.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Palantir Technologies Inc., the closely held data-mining startup founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, said it never engaged with political analysis firm Cambridge Analytica but discovered one of its employees had.

Cambridge Analytica is the U.K. firm that harvested data from 50 million unwitting Facebook Inc. users to target voters and help elect Donald Trump. That sparked a firestorm around the social networking firm’s failure to protect personal data and raised larger questions about who owns user information. More details have emerged since that initial revelation, with former Cambridge Analytica employee-turned-whistleblower Chris Wylie testifying Tuesday to U.K. lawmakers that Palantir helped Cambridge Analytica by building algorithms using the Facebook data.

Palantir disputed Wylie’s claims and said although Cambridge Analytica sought to engage on “multiple” occasions, Palantir always shot down the offer. One employee didn’t though.

“We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica. We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action,” Palantir spokeswoman Lisa Gordon said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

Co-founded in 2004 by Facebook board member Thiel, Palantir aggregates far-flung information and then finds patterns in data often overlooked by humans. It has done work for federal agencies from the U.S. Defense Department to the Department of Homeland Security, and worked on fraud prevention for JPMorgan Chase & Co. and supply chain management and drug discovery for Merck. Despite Thiel’s heavy political involvement—he spoke in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention—the Silicon Valley company says it has purposefully stayed away from political work.

“As a matter of company policy, we do not and have never worked on or been involved with elections or political campaigns anywhere in the world,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The rogue employee is Alfredas Chmieliauskas, who used his personal Gmail to pursue a side relationship with Cambridge Analytica, according to emails provided by Palantir to Bloomberg. Chmieliauskas didn’t respond to a request for comment. According to his Linkedin profile, he has worked in business development at Palantir since 2013.

Palantir said it’s continuing its investigation but so far has identified just one employee who worked with Cambridge.

(Updates with status of Palantir investigation in the last paragraph.)
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