Opinion

How Palantir Falls Short of Responsible Corporate Conduct

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

Karp tries to frame corporate obligations solely in legal terms, stating that “no leader should knowingly permit his or her products to be used illegally.” Abiding by the law is necessary but insufficient.

By Michael Posner

In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, Alex Karp, the chief executive of a data-analysis company called Palantir, warns that when Silicon Valley executives “try to impose their moral framework on America, something has gone seriously and dangerously awry.” Public policy decisions, he adds, need to be made by “elected representatives and judges, not by unelected engineers running global businesses.” But Karp fails to acknowledge that companies like Palantir decide with whom they do business and have an obligation to address the harmful consequences of their business relationships. This responsibility rests not only on tech companies but on all corporations.

Karp tries to frame corporate obligations solely in legal terms, stating that “no leader should knowingly permit his or her products to be used illegally.”  Abiding by the law is necessary but insufficient. Companies must also pursue their core business objectives ethically and take proactive steps to mitigate the risks associated with their business models and their products. Palantir’s high profile and often controversial business activities provide an instructive case study.

Founded in 2004 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Palantir received early investments from Peter Thiel, one of its founders, and In-Q-Tel, a venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and other U.S. government intelligence agencies, as well as elements of the U.S. military, became the firm’s anchor clients. Palantir has helped strengthen U.S. national security interests, enabling the government to fill some of the gaps in intelligence-gathering that the 9/11 attacks laid bare.

Read the full Forbes article.
___
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.