June brought news of one of US tech’s most controversial companies coming to the UK’s health service. We take a look at this and other stories which were in the headlines at the time.
US big data company Palantir signalled its intention to win more NHS contracts by hiring executives from the UK health service to advise on procurement. It was reported the company, which has received funding from the CIA in the past, had set its sights on winning a five-year £360m contract for the proposed Federated Data Platform (FDP), which will be a new data tool to connect and integrate patient data from across the system for real-time decision making. Six months later this contract has yet to be awarded.
With its CIA links and past contracts assisting US law enforcement agencies, any links between the NHS and Palantir were always likely to prove controversial. The company has been working with the health service since the Covid-19 pandemic, and now wants to establish an even closer relationship.
“Palantir is a controversial CIA-backed spy tech business, and its potential access to NHS patient data raises severe concerns due to the way it can potentially be leveraged for surveillance purposes,” digital privacy expert Ray Walsh, from ProPrivacy, told Tech Monitor. “Ever since Palantir was drafted in at great expense to help with the pandemic we have had grave concerns over how the company intends to use the data it is provided with to create secondary revenue streams.”
Ministers pointed out that data sharing can enable better outcomes for patients, and said better education was needed around the way the health service uses information.
Broadcom-VMware deal in the balance
Chipmaker Broadcom’s proposed $61bn takeover of virtualisation specialist VMware was announced in May, but hit its first significant roadblock the following month when it was revealed the European Union was launching an antitrust probe into the deal.
Though the synergies between the companies are not immediately obvious, several VMware customers contacted the EU with fears that they may be forced to buy services from Broadcom if the deal went through. They apparently cited two other acquisitions by the US chipmaker, of CA Technologies in 2018 and Symantec’s enterprise security business a year later, as deals which harmed competition and resulted in Broadcom raising prices.
Broadcom said it was pursuing the deal to broaden its product portfolio, and that it plans to accelerate VMware’s switch to a software-as-a-service business, rather than one that sells traditional software licenses.
The EU isn’t the only regulator taking a look at the acquisition, as the UK’s Competitions and Markets Authority has opened an initial investigation into the deal, and the US Federal Trade Commission has also launched a probe. Broadcom’s target of completing some time in the 2023 fiscal year may prove optimistic.
UK GDPR replacement ‘could threaten ICO independence’
Details of the UK GDPR replacement, initially known as the Data Reform Bill, were published by the government as part of a consultation response, and did not receive a warm welcome from civil rights groups. The independence of data watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) could be threatened by measures in the legislation, the campaigners warned, with the bill giving ministers more direct oversight of the data regulator.
“The UK Data Reform Bill will codify cronyism into law,” said Mariano delli Santi, legal and policy officer at the Open Rights Group. “The secretary of state is being given the power to arbitrarily amend the Commissioner’s salary, issue ‘a statement of priorities’ to their office, and vetoing the adoption of statutory codes and guidance, thus exposing the ICO to political direction, corporate capture and corruption.”
The government said the bill would be a less prescriptive approach than GDPR, meaning UK businesses could save up to £1bn over ten years.
Civil rights campaigners were already smarting after they said they were excluded from consultation on the bill, which they described as “rigged”. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said a full consultation had been carried out.