World Food Programme signs Palantir to provide data analytics


In February 2019, the World Food Programme, a United Nations aid agency, announced a five-year, $45 million partnership with the data analytics company Palantir. WFP, the world's largest humanitarian organisation focusing on hunger and food security, hoped that Palantir, better known for partnering with police and surveillance agencies, could help analyse large amounts of data to create new insights from the data WFP collects from the 90 million people in 80 countries to whom it distributes 3 million tons of food a year. WFP said the partnership would reduce operational costs and increase efficiency. WFP's initial release indicated that the pilot project had already saved it $30 million and stressed that Palantir would not see WFP data that could be linked to specific individuals.

The project immediately attracted outrage from many human rights activists and organisations, dozens of whom signed an open letter to WFP asking the agency to reconsider. Few believed WFP could keep personal data as confidential as the agency believed, and Palantir as an organisation notoriously lacks transparency. There are also questions surrounding data control, security, responsibility if things go wrong, and the potential for reputational damage.

Writer: Faine Greenwood

Publication: Slate

Publication date: 2019-02-13