Despite Naming Coincidence, Palantir Says It’s Not Part Of PRISM Program

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It’s unwise to postulate that, because big data and security startup Palantir has a similarly named product to PRISM, that it’s somehow culpable.

And, in an emailed statement to the Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw, Palantir has now refuted that exact claim. “Palantir’s Prism platform is completely unrelated to any US government program of the same name. Prism is Palantir’s name for a data integration technology used in the Palantir Metropolis platform (formerly branded as Palantir Finance). This software has been licensed to banks and hedge funds for quantitative analysis and research.”

The startup explains that the Prism software in question is for banks, not for government — though it does count the NSA as a client for other products. YCombinator partnet Garry Tan has backed up this statement, revealing that he helped build the team and code Palantir Prism née Palantir Finance in 2006.

Here is Palantir’s description of its product:

“Prism is a software component that lets you quickly integrate external databases into Palantir. Specifically, it lets you build high-performance Data Engine based providers without writing any code. Instead, you define simple configuration files and then Palantir automatically constructs the data provider and database code for you. This ensures that all data access goes through well tested, high-performance code paths. Also, you can iterate more quickly because you can modify and reload Prism-based data providers without restarting the server.”

The Gawker story is unfortunate, because it is apparently already causing the startup recruitment damage on Hacker News; as mysterious as Palantir likes to play it, sometimes transparency assuages people’s greatest fear. 

Even if the startup were misleading us in its denial, and/or somehow involved in the government’s controversial data-collection program, it’s sort of a paradox: Let’s say someone was using Facebook to send nasty messages to random girls … Facebook’s fault or that person’s? You’re using the Internet to download kiddie porn, the Internet’s fault or yours? Software products are tools — Bludgeoned someone with a hammer, should ACE Hardware stop selling them?

It’s the startup equivalent of the “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” argument. It’s a hard one.

Check out Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale’s explanation of what the company actually does, at TechCrunch Disrupt New York, below: