Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg's Name Must Go, Says a Group of San Francisco General Hospital Employees

Privacy concerns over patient data are the main cause for the protest. But local gentrification may be helping to fuel it.
Zuckerberg's Name Must Go, Says a Group of San Francisco General Hospital Employees
Image credit: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Associate Editor
6 min read

Mark Zuckerberg's data privacy woes apparently haven't ended with Cambridge Analytica: In California, a small band of nurses at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital are protesting having the Facebook CEO's and his wife's names attached to their institution.

The reason is what the group calls a threat to patient data. "We're identifying Mark Zuckerberg's role in performing unauthorized research," Sasha Cuttler, R.N., told Entrepreneur.

Related: Read Mark Zuckerberg's Full Statement on Facebook's Data Scandal

"He and his wife gave $75 million in 2015 and that reminded me of an article I read in the New York Times about his involvement in research that was questionable," Cuttler added. His reference was to 2014 news coverage of Facebook's "emotional contagion" experiment. Researchers attached to the social media giant had manipulated the news feeds of almost 700,000 Facebook users, changing the number of positive and negative posts they saw, then studying the emotional effects. 

An uproar ensued as observers rejected Facebook's argument that its terms of service allowed for such a use of user data. The head of the study subsequently apologized, and no less prestigious a source as the editor-in-chief of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an "editorial expression of concern" questioning Facebook's ethics.

Facebook's actions involving human subjects, the editor wrote, "may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allow[ed] participants to opt out" (the main criteria of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, known as the Common Rule). 

Update to May 12, 2018, when Cuttler and what observers called a handful of employees (of what is now formally called the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center) carried protest signs and dressed in traditional nursing outfits (along with at least one Frida Kahlo-impersonator -- a bow to the fact that the famous artist once sought treatment there). The protestors also plastered tape over the Zuckerberg name on a sign in the hospital driveway.

Theirs was a controversial action that opponents like San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell and the U.K.'s Daily Mail and Fox News characterized as akin to biting the hand that fed them.

Yet the small band of protestors weren't alone in their concerns. In 2015, when the hospital name was changed, the local in the nurses' SEIU union circulated a petition asking the publicly owned hospital to give city residents a say in the naming, and noting that city voters earlier had approved an $887 million bond measure for the hospital.

In that context, Cuttler said, the Zuckerbergs' donation, while appreciated, was just a drop in the bucket compared to the influx of public funds from those whom, he said, really should have been consulted in the hospital's naming.

Hospital communications officer Brent Andrew, in an interview, supported the Zuckerberg naming -- and the donation it was based on, noting,  "We have never had a gift of that magnitude before. We turned that money into saving lives, and that's not spinning stuff; that's literally true. We have two CT scanners in our emergency department right now from that gift, which we use all the time."

Still, Cutler persisted on his concerns about patient privacy. He referred to news reports by media outlets like CNBC and Newsweek that Facebook had asked a number of hospitals to share patient data about prescriptions and illnesses. The purpose was a project to match the information collected with social media data to assist medical institutions in locating patients needing additional treatment.

Newsweek also reported that Facebook was negotiating a data-sharing agreement with the American College of Cardiology, the Stanford University School of Medicine in California and other institutions. A Stanford cardiologist connected to the project had written on his LinkedIn profile -- the statement has since been removed -- that he had been leading "top-secret projects" at Facebook since 2016. (Spokesman Andrew said his hospital was not involved.)

Cuttler further worried over who might be behind a breach of patient data affecting 895 patients of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and the Laguna Honda rehabilitation center. (Both Andrew and a local news report said the data has been recovered from the employee of a contractor who allegedly breached it, and that the data was not shared).

Andrew rejected the notion that his hospital's data was in jeopardy. "I speak to patients daily," he told Entrepreneur. "I speak to our staff daily. We are completely committed to adhering to HIPAA standards for the use of patient data. I've never heard anyone express concern that their data is being shared for other purposes."

Still, the protestors will continue, said Cuttler, who cited his Ph.D. in nursing as evidence for his knowledge of data -- and its vulnerability. Might the protestors be angry at Zuckerberg over other issues, such as the Facebook CEO's immense wealth amid a local population that's struggled to pay sky-high rents prompted by the infusion of tech millionaires?

Cuttler didn't reject the notion, though he said gentrification was a secondary concern. "To reward a man who has callously disregarded patient autonomy with the name of a hospital that serves the marginalized, is to tell healthcare workers that the rich can flout ethical standards," Cuttler wrote in a followup email.

"Even if we had less income inequality in San Francisco, the fact that all the residents of San Francisco supported a record-breaking $887 million bond measure during the recession in 2008 for San Francisco General Hospital dwarfs the contribution of Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan," Cuttler wrote, referencing the latter's former employment as a pediatrician at the hospital. 

Related: Mark Zuckerberg Gives a Lesson in How Not to Lead in a Crisis

Cuttler's group actually has stated a preference for a new name to be attached to what members prefer to call "San Francisco General Hospital." That name? José Julio Sarria, a late San Francisco political activist and drag queen.

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