The world’s largest conference for women in technology, the Grace Hopper Celebration, is dropping Palantir as a sponsor dues to concerns over its work for US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE’s role in separating families at the border, detaining children in cages, and deporting people seeking refuge back to dangerous places has raised deep concerns with humanitarians, politicians, and the general public.
It’s the third time in recent months that a nonprofit or academic group has dropped Palantir as a corporate sponsor over humanitarian concerns. The news comes shortly after a petition launched on Change.org with over 200 signatures asking the organization that puts on the Grace Hopper Celebration, AnitaB.org, to revoke Palantir as a sponsor. The gathering drew 20,000 attendees last year from 78 different countries, and is one of the longest standing and most popular conferences for women technologists. Last year, speakers included Anita Hill and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative co-founder Priscilla Chan.
The move signifies how Palantir, which provides technology to ICE that’s used in immigrant deportations, has increasingly become a toxic association for advocacy nonprofits and academic institutions in tech. On Tuesday, Lesbians Who Tech, a leading LGBTQ organization, confirmed with The Verge that it was dropping Palantir as a sponsor of its annual conference. And in June, UC Berkeley’s Privacy Law Scholars Conference dropped Palantir as a sponsor.
AnitaB.org Vice President of Business Development and Partnership Success Robert Read made the following statement about the decision to cut ties with Palantir:
“At AnitaB.org we do our best to promote the basic rights and dignity of every person in all that we do, including our corporate sponsorship and events program. Palantir has been independently verified as providing direct technology assistance that enables the human rights abuses of asylum seekers and their children at US southern border detention centers. Therefore, at this time, Palantir will no longer be a sponsor of Grace Hopper Celebration 2019.”
Palantir did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In recent years, Palantir’s contracts with ICE have come under increased scrutiny as the immigration agency’s actions have become more controversial. In particular, the agency has prioritized deporting migrant families in mass raids and keeping refugees — including children — in overcrowded detention facilities for extended periods of time. As of June, at least 24 immigrants have died in ICE’s custody under the Trump administration.
Palantir has various contracts with ICE, including one to provide data analysis software to the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division, which oversees workplace raids that have led to mass deportations.
And the company has long touted its close relationship with the US government, even on controversial projects. Its executives have denounced other companies like Google as “unpatriotic” for dropping its contract to work with the Pentagon on drone-enhancing artificial intelligence (which Google did after a backlash from its employees and the public).
Despite internal and external pushback about its ICE contracts, including a letter signed by hundreds of employees, Palantir has so far stood by its work.
But this new wave of organizations severing ties with the company shows that Palantir is starting to face the consequences of its controversial contracts. For the company, events like the Lesbians Who Tech conference and the Grace Hopper Celebration are more than symbolic causes to support, but important pipelines for recruiting and retaining diverse talent. A tarnished reputation with these organizations could ultimately negatively impact Palantir’s ability to hire the brightest in Silicon Valley — and effect the company’s bottom line.