In an interview broadcast on Sunday, Alex Karp, co-founder and CEO of Palantir, acknowledged that the Federated Data Platform (FDP) could make it easier for a future UK government to sell off NHS data.
But he repeatedly stressed that this would not be a decision for Palantir, which is widely seen as the front-runner for the contract to deliver the new FDP.
Appearing on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg in an interview with Victoria Derbyshire, he sought to allay public concerns about Palantir’s potential involvement in the NHS Federated Data Platform. “We’re the only company our size that doesn’t buy your data or sell your data. We don’t transfer it to any other entity. That data belongs to the government of the UK.”
Asked about polling data from a YouGov commissioned by the Doctors’ Association that indicates 48% of adults say they would likely opt out of FDP is it were to be run by a private company, Karp said: “There is a reason for that. Virtually every other company in the world, apart from mine, will take that data and transfer to somebody else. So, if you are in England, you assume that when a private company touches your data, that they are going to use it for their purposes. Palantir doesn’t do that.”
Pressed by Derbyshire on whether it might in the future, the Palantir CEO said “We’ve never done it in 20 years.” And stated that it couldn’t if it wanted to as Palantir didn’t have access to that data.
Under persistent questioning he acknowledged that once health data had been brought together into the single FDP database it opened the way to it potentially being sold in the future, if a future government chose to. “But by the UK government, not by me. I don’t have the ability to do that,” said Karp.
Asked by Derbyshire whether high levels of opt-outs would render the data worthless, Karp said he didn’t believe it would happen and that people were more concerned about a paper-based NHS.
“You have to show people their hospital bed is available and why it is available and is it’s not available why it’s not available. When they go to the doctor’s they don’t have to fill out the paper 15 times and watch it get lost.”
The way to allay concerns said Karp was to show people that “this is going to be much better for your life’, and it’s going to improve health outcomes”.
He added: “By the way the NHS has a huge problem with backlogs; those problems are not solvable without technology.”
Defense of procurement conditions
Defending his product, he suggested the NHS should count itself lucky to be working with Palantir. “We’re giving you the most successful enterprise product in the America.”
Karp sought to dismiss questions about Palantir initially giving away its product for free to gain market access and gain poll-position in any subsequent procurement. “By the way what’s wrong with that?”
He said giving its software away initially for free so would be clients could try it was Palantir’s standard way of doing business and the only people who objected to it were competitors whose software “didn’t work”.
“By the way, that product, in the right conditions, saved thousands and thousands and thousands of lives during the pandemic,” he claimed.
Asked to sum up the benefits of AI in health Karp said. “Better care at the point of need. Every system in the United Kingdom working better, and those are the real benefits. Your life expectancy goes up. Your happiness goes up. You can fight against the evils of AI including discrimination.”
Asked about the dangers of AI, he said: “The risk is that it develops to a point where it’s a danger to us all. Which is right that governments should be actively looking at this and be ready to intervene.”
A final decision on the award of the £480m FDP procurement has been delayed until November.