We’re all freaked out, too frequently it seems, by the realization that our movements online are being watched and used by the websites and tech companies we interact with. Targeted advertising and posts on social media such as Facebook or Instagram or Twitter have the daily ability to make us stop and realize, “Gosh, they know way too much about what I click on.”
A heartbreaking open letter to tech companies, posted on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, drives that point home, and implores the social giants, along with the credit reporting agency Experian, to “advertise accordingly.”
The letter, which can be read in full below, was written by Gillian Brockell, a video producer at The Washington Post, whose baby son Sohan was stillborn on Dec. 1.
— Gillian Brockell (@gbrockell) December 11, 2018
“I know you knew I was pregnant. It’s my fault,” Brockell started her letter. “I just couldn’t resist those Instagram hashtags.”
Brockell writes that she knew that posting about her pregnancy and being tagged in images or putting her due date in an Amazon registry was alerting algorithms to target her with specific advertising.
But when she sensed something was wrong with her unborn child, her internet searches sought answers to queries such as “is this braxton hicks?” and “baby not moving?” She fell silent for three days and then posted about being “heartbroken” and used the term “stillborn.”
But the algorithms learned nothing. Picking up her phone for a couple moments of distraction before the next bout of crying only brought with it the same targeted ads Brockell saw when her baby was still alive, she said.
“Please, Tech Companies, I implore you,” Brockell concluded. “If you’re smart enough to realize that I’m pregnant, that I’ve given birth, then surely you’re smart enough to realize that my baby died, and can advertise to me accordingly, or maybe just maybe, not at all.”
Brockell’s sadness and frustration, conveyed via a letter dropped into the expanse of social media, is gut-wrenching. And hopefully something that will get the computers, and the people who program them, to take notice.