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Palantir, co-founded by Facebook board member Peter Thiel, files to go public

The data analytics company, which works with the military, is seen by some as an example of the dark side of technology. But it says it's keeping soldiers safe.

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Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and an early Facebook investor and board member, co-founded Palantir in 2003.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Palantir Technologies, a controversial data analytics company tied to US government contracts, filed paperwork Tuesday to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, marking the latest example of the tech industry's increasing wealth amid the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis.

Palantir said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it's growing quickly despite the pandemic, tallying $481.2 million in revenue during first half of this year, a 49% jump from the same period a year ago. Last year, it logged $742.6 million in revenue. But the company is also bleeding money, with a net loss in 2019 of $579.6 million, or $337.7 million when excluding stock-based compensation. Palantir, named after a magical orb that allows its user to see across the world in J.R.R. Tokien's Lord of the Rings series, was co-founded by Peter Thiel, who also co-founded PayPal and is a Facebook board member and vocal Donald Trump supporter.

Palantir isn't as well known as tech industry peers such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, in part because it focuses on building technology for business, the military and the intelligence sector. The company describes its products as helping to organize vast amounts of information, allowing customers to spot trends and other important information that's otherwise hard to find. 

"We build software platforms for large institutions whose work is essential to our way of life. Those institutions must be able to function in times of stability as well as crisis and uncertainty," Palantir said in its filing. "To do so, they need software that works."

But tech companies' connections to the government have raised concerns about the dangers of government surveillance and of various military programs. Employees at Google and Microsoft, for example, have pushed back on their companies' efforts to work with the military, arguing that the workers didn't agree to have their labors turned into tools of war.

As part of the filing Tuesday, Palantir CEO and co-founder Alex Karp blasted his tech industry peers as unpatriotic and naive. "We have chosen sides, and we know that our partners value our commitment," he wrote. "We stand by them when it is convenient, and when it is not."

Karp also criticized consumer tech companies for their frequent efforts to collect information about people and use that data for targeted ads. "For many consumer internet companies, our thoughts and inclinations, behaviors and browsing habits, are the product for sale," he added. "Our software is used to target terrorists and to keep soldiers safe."