Technology companies, health, and ethics

JOSÉ A. VIDAL
Jose A. Vidal
Published in
4 min readJul 31, 2023

We all know that the major global technology companies (GAFAM) are making significant investments focused on the healthcare sector. One of the most important challenges for healthcare systems worldwide is to transform 20th-century health systems into their 21st-century counterparts. However, any technological innovation faces a significant struggle against short-term political cycles and short-sightedness. A simple example would be the absence of a digital health record system in Europe when Amazon can deliver a package anywhere in the world. This is where private companies, with more or less ethics in their Board Committees, gain a competitive advantage over public administration and management.

Let’s choose an example from these big GAFAM companies: Facebook (now Meta). I’m not a great user of Mark Zuckerberg’s tools, and here are some reasons why:

Privacy and Data Protection: Several lawsuits and regulatory actions related to privacy and data protection of its users. One of the most notable cases was the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, where personal data of millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent and used for political purposes. This resulted in investigations and fines by regulatory authorities in various countries.

Copyright and Intellectual Property Violations: Lawsuits for copyright violations, alleging that the platform allows the distribution of copyrighted content without permission from the rights holders.

Discrimination in Advertising: There were accusations that Meta allowed discrimination in targeted advertising based on specific user characteristics such as race, gender, and age. This led to lawsuits and agreements to address these concerns.

Misrepresentation of Advertising Metrics: Zuckerberg faced allegations of inflating advertising metrics, leading to lawsuits from advertisers claiming that the company provided inaccurate data about the performance of their ads.

Antitrust Regulation: Over the years, Meta has faced investigations and questions about its dominant position in the social media market and potential violations of antitrust laws. In some countries, there have been calls to break up the company or impose stricter restrictions on its operations.

Indeed, the relationship between major tech companies, ethics, and users is complex and constantly evolving. The actions and policies of these companies can have a significant impact on the lives of millions of people, making it essential for them to be transparent, responsible, and ethical in their approach towards their users and society.

Source: Chan Zuckerberg BioHub Network. July 2023.

You already know Mark Zuckerberg. His wife is Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician. Together, in September 2016, they created a foundation called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). CZI initially committed to investing $600 million over a ten-year period in a BioHub and other initiatives.

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Network works closely with researchers from three leading institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area: the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkeley. This ecosystem has created a network of scientists with multidisciplinary approaches working in various areas, such as cellular biology, genomics, infectious diseases, and neuroscience. This Biohub has focused on supporting biomedical research and has been involved in a wide range of projects and collaborations, such as:

Single-cell Platform: BioHub researchers and their associated institutions have been working on the development of advanced sequencing techniques to analyze individual cells, enabling a more detailed understanding of cellular diversity and dynamics in various tissues and diseases.

Infectious Disease Research: Studies have been conducted to address infectious diseases like HIV and tuberculosis, with the aim of developing more effective therapies and prevention strategies.

Neuroscience: The Hub supports research projects aimed at improving the understanding of neurological diseases and discovering new approaches to treat conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Research Tools and Technologies: Investments have been made in the development of innovative technologies that allow scientists to conduct more precise and efficient research, such as gene editing tools and advanced imaging methods.

Open Collaborations: One distinctive feature of the BioHub is its focus on open collaboration and the dissemination of data and research results, fostering rapid and efficient scientific advancement.

The healthcare sector is heavily regulated, so we will see how the ethics of these tech companies evolve in such sensitive areas for individuals as health. However, it is evident that the private sector holds a significant advantage over the public ecosystem in terms of investment and development. The perfect recipe lies in a formula of public-private collaboration.

MENTION:

By the way, speaking of examples of public-private collaboration, I would like to extend my deepest, sincerest, and most heartfelt thanks to the Health Department — Xunta de Galicia (Spain) and its regional health service (SERGAS) for inviting me to be present a couple of weeks ago at the presentation of their Integrated Care Project for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Undoubtedly, being invited as a guest of the healthcare administration to the presentation of a project in which I had participated in a previous professional life is the best indicator of leaving things better than when I found them, always with the patients in mind. It has been a true honor, and I’ll see you on the journey.

ES version

CONTENT PILLS:

This July, almost entering August, we are taking a break from the usual content pills for each post, which will come back in the next publication during the last week in August.

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JOSÉ A. VIDAL
Jose A. Vidal

ACCESS TO HEALTH, MEDICINE, BIOLOGY & DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY