The NHS data is well structured but has made several headlines for dillydallying with either Google or other “shady organisations”. I am not going to comment on the politicisation of the data. If data is the new oil, then there are going to be several claimants, and it is extremely tough to prove the merits of the algorithms.
I think what wins in the large government contracts is the way data can be visualised on the “dashboard” for the “administrators” because I’d be genuinely surprised if the systems exist that have prioritised end users. Despite massive philosophical underpinnings of open source software, for example, being free by virtue of licenses, I am quite surprised that governments across the world opt for licensing lock-ins and proprietary formats.
Likewise, this appears alarming, but it isn’t. You may identify yourself on either side of the political debate but by pushing or indirectly complying that the firm is “evil” because of other divisions, is no criteria for a public discussion. This only smacks of motivated agendas.
Britain’s battle against coronavirus has had plenty of heroes. Peter Thiel may be the most unlikely one of all. The Trump-supporting Silicon Valley billionaire is the founder of Palantir, a data crunching company better known for its shadowy work for intelligence agencies including MI5 and the CIA – and helping track down Osama bin Laden.
Palantir’s technology is used by BP to boost efficiency and by the US and UK armed forces to wage war.
So when the NHS revealed that Palantir was building emergency data mining tools to help Britain cope with the pandemic – for no fee – there were understandable reservations. What might be expected in return?
“Palantir has a lot of toxic baggage with its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the way in which its software is being used,” says Phil Booth, founder of Med Confidential, a campaign group focused on heath data privacy.
Technology policy should be strongly decoupled from politics because it creates confusion. If the idea is to generate debate by placing it in the public domain, then it should be made accessible without the “drama”.
I will be evaluating the role of privacy soon as it merits its own blog post.