Peter Thiel's Palantir charges NHS England £1 million for coronavirus 'data store'

Key Points
  • Britain is giving Palantir £1 million and allowing the firm to process sensitive medical records of coronavirus patients. 
  • Palantir initially charged the National Health Service £1 for its software and services but now it wants £1 million to extend the deal by four months. 
  • Palantir is one of several U.S. tech giants that Britain has enlisted to help build the Covid-19 data store. 

In this article

Peter Thiel
Noah Berger | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Britain's National Health Service has awarded Palantir a £1 million ($1.3 million) contract extension for its work on a "Covid-19 data store" that's designed to help health officials understand how the coronavirus is spreading across the U.K. and help them allocate resources appropriately.

Palantir's initial contract, which did not go to competitive tender, was announced on March 28 and ended on June 11. NHS England confirmed Wednesday that the contract had been extended by four months and a spokesperson told CNBC that the value of the contract was £1 million after the figure was first reported by New Statesman.

Palantir's Foundry software powers the front end of the Covid-19 data store. The NHS said it enables disparate data to be "integrated, cleaned, and harmonized" so that a "single source of truth" can be established and used to support decision-making. 

Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Faculty, a U.K. artificial intelligence start-up that worked for Dominic Cummings during the Vote Leave campaign, were also involved in setting up the Covid-19 data store. However, Google has since been dropped, according to The Telegraph newspaper. Google did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment. 

The extended contract requires Palantir to package up the work it has been doing so the service can go out to tender in an open procurement process. It's possible that Palantir could be kept on after the extension period. The company just signed a coronavirus-related contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for $17.3 million. 

The financials of the initial deal between Palantir and NHS England weren't known until June, when they were published following a number of freedom of information requests, including one by CNBC, and a legal threat from politics website openDemocracy and law firm Foxglove.

The document showed that Palantir charged NHS England just £1 for its software and services. Some questioned whether Palantir charged the minimum figure in order to gain access to valuable patient data. 

"The contracts show that the companies involved were originally granted intellectual property rights (including the creation of databases), and were allowed to train their models and profit off their unprecedented access to NHS data," openDemocracy editor-in-chief Mary Fitzgerald and Foxglove founding director and U.S. lawyer Cori Crider wrote in a blog post.

The NHS health records that Palantir has access to can include a patient's name, age, address, health conditions, treatments and medicines, allergies, tests, scans, X-Ray results, whether a patient smokes or drinks, and hospital admission and discharge information. Any data that may make patients personally identifiable are replaced with a pseudonym or aggregated before they're shared with Palantir.

Co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, an ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, Palantir has developed data trawling technology that intelligence agencies and governments use for surveillance and to spot suspicious patterns in public and private databases. Customers include the CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Army. More recently, the company has also started selling its technology to enterprises in a range of other industries. 

Palantir sees a huge opportunity in Europe and now has more staff in its London office than it does at its headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

The company confidentially filed to go public earlier this month and is in the midst of raising nearly $1 billion in new capital, separate from the IPO. It has already raised in excess of $2.6 billion and is valued at over $20 billion.