How safe will NHS patients’ data be as a result of Babylon-Palantir merger?

Like Lord Drayson’s data analytics company Sensyne Health, Ali Parsa’s Babylon company is partnering with a US “acquisition company” and is to offer shares on the US stock exchange, NASDAQ.

Babylon is famous (or notorious) for its GP At Hand app. (You can find out more here:

Digital Health reports that Babylon has entered a £2.9bn merger with special purpose acquisition company Alkuri Global. US big data company Palantir has also taken a strategic stake in Babylon.

Palantir, founded by Silicon Valley billionaire and close Trump ally Peter Thiel, is a data-mining firm best known for supporting the CIA’s counterinsurgency and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In 2019 it was criticised for its support for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s brutal regime of deportations. Reporting over its extensive contracts with American police forces revealed problems with access to sensitive data, prices rising over time, and a lack of public trust in their ‘predictive policing’ products. Palentir’s chair, Peter Thiel, was a massive donor to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Along with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Faculty, Palentir was awarded secretive contracts in early 2020 as part of the UK governments’ massive NHS COVID-19 data deal. Under pressure from a legal case brought by Open Democracy and tech justice firm Foxglove, on the eve of the court case the UK government released all the contracts governing its deals with Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and controversial AI firms Faculty and Palantir.

The contracts revealed details of what has been described as an ‘unprecedented’ transfer of personal health information of millions of NHS users to these private tech firms. 

In September 2021, Open Democracy reported that the UK government had binned a data deal regarding adult social care with the controversial US ‘spy tech’ company Palantir following criticism from privacy campaigners. The contract was to migrate data on adult social care from a system designed and run by Palantir to a new in-house system.

It looks as if the public fight to kick out Palantir from the NHS and to protect the NHS from tech-profiteering has had some success – but Palentir is now entering the NHS data field through Babylon’s corporate door.

Update 20.12.21: A Babylon/Palentir press release claims that,

“The partnership has seen Babylon utilize Palantir’s Foundry platform to enable the acceleration in the delivery of its digital-first personalized care…through this rapid transition to using Foundry as a powerful foundation for managing data…”

This at a time when the new data guardian for England, Dr Nicola Byrne, has warned against the lack of regulation over the way companies are collecting, storing and sharing patient data via health apps.

The national data guardian is appointed by the health secretary as an independent watchdog over the use of patient data in healthcare. Dr Byrne was appointed in March this year after a 20-year career working in mental health and serving as a chief clinical information officer at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

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