If all goes as planned, sometime this weekend Palantir, the data-mining unicorn startup expected to go public later this year at a valuation of as much as $41 billion, will be the target of a novel digital protest designed to incite Palantir’s engineers to rise up against their bosses.
Hatched by a group called the Tech Workers Coalition, the plan calls for organized waves of digital protesters to post a prepared message to Palantir’s GitHub boards, normally used to flag and fix software bugs. Instead of tech glitches, these messages aim to tackle a bigger problem: allegations that Palantir’s software has been used to aid in the deportation of families and migrant children at the Mexican border by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The call is for the protest to start at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 11.
Earlier this month, The Intercept reported that Palantir had provided Homeland Security with technology to “target the parents and other relatives of unaccompanied minors crossing the border.” The story cited newly released Homeland Security documents.
The templated document that organizers are encouraging users to share states that “Palantir continues to insist that their work with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is separate and distinct from the deportations carried out by Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). But HSI regularly assists with deportations and collaborates closely with ERO, including sharing information stored in Palantir’s systems.” It goes on to share links to The Intercept story and the released Homeland Security documents, and appeals to workers to consider their role, even if indirectly, in Palantir’s work with ICE. It also encourages people to add their own personal sentiments.
You can see the whole call to action here.
The protest organizers’ hope is that by addressing Palantir’s employees directly on GitHub, where coders communicate, they will be galvanized into using their considerable collective clout at the company to pressure executives over the alleged misuse of its technology. The belief is that collectively they have the kind of sway that could change policy within the company. They build the software that pays the bills. In January, Bloomberg reported that Palantir executives repriced stock options and instituted a bonus system in an effort to improve employee morale. Reports have also suggested that Palantir is focusing more on corporate clients as it heads toward an IPO.
We have reached out to Palantir for comment.
The Palantir action is the latest tech-worker protest against large technology companies that have government defense contracts. Last year, Microsoft employees complained to management about ICE being a customer of the company’s cloud services, and Salesforce employees lobbied co-CEO Marc Benioff to extricate the company from offering its recruiting tools to Customs and Border Protection. Amazon’s workforce also sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos calling, in part, for the company not to sell Amazon Web Services to Palantir because of its work with ICE. Google’s employees have staged protests over projects they believed its products were helping governmental spying, and just this week Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes called for his former company’s breakup, following a string of revelations about its misuse of technology.