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Controversial Data Company Palantir Bashes Silicon Valley as It Plans Public Debut

Data analytics company Palantir Technologies filed to go public late Tuesday, shedding some light on the finances of the Peter Thiel-backed company best known for working with government spy agencies and other clandestine customers.

Palantir intends to go public via a direct listing rather than a more traditional initial public offering, meaning existing shares in the now-private company will be sold directly onto a stock exchange to the general public. The company in its filing reported a loss of $588 million in 2019 on revenue if $742.6 million, up 25% year over year.

In the first half of 2020, Palantir recorded revenue of $481 million, putting it within range of hitting $1 billion in sales for the year.

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The company was founded in 2003 by a group including computer scientist Stephen Cohen and Thiel, a sometimes controversial venture capitalist best known as a co-founder of PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL) and an early investor in both Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) LinkedIn. Thiel does not have a day-to-day role at the Palantir, but is chairman of its board.

The company's work with the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a number of defense agencies has made it a lightning rod for criticism over the years.

Palantir admits as much in its registration statement, warning that "our relationships with government customers and customers that are engaged in certain sensitive industries, including organizations whose products or activities are or are perceived to be harmful, have resulted in public criticism, including from political and social activists, and unfavorable coverage in the media."

At the same time, yielding to activists could be harmful to growth. Palantir said that "being perceived as yielding to activism targeted at certain customers could damage our relationships with certain customers, including governments and government agencies with which we do business, whose views may or may not be aligned with those of political and social activists."

Company co-founder and CEO Alexander C. Karp was unapologetic about Palantir's role as a defense contractor in a letter contained in the filing, calling Silicon Valley engineers good at building software but saying that "they do not know more about how society should be organized or what justice requires."

"Our software is used to target terrorists and to keep soldiers safe," Karp wrote. "If we are going to ask someone to put themselves in harm's way, we believe that we have a duty to give them what they need to do their job."

Palantir gets more than half of its revenue from government customers, but said in the filing that they "generally do not enter into business with customers or governments whose positions or actions we consider inconsistent with our mission to support Western liberal democracy and its strategic allies."

The company intends to list two classes of stock in an arrangement designed to give its founders control over major decisions.

Palantir, which takes its name from an orb featured in the book "The Lord of the Rings," said it intends to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "PLTR." The company reportedly hopes to begin trading before the end of September.

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