The mother of a stillborn child has criticised Facebook and other social media platforms over their advertisements, following being overrun with baby-related promotions following the loss of her son.
Gillian Brockell of Washington D.C., wrote an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Experian, where she said if they were smart enough to know that she had been pregnant, they also should have realised the baby had died.
This may sound a little far-fetched for some, but other users have claimed that they have had similar experiences before with targeted adverts. Facebook and Twitter acknowledged Brockwell’s criticism and said that they could do better. These types of targeted ads can surely be an invasion of privacy, and in cases like these, it’s gone way too far.
Last month, Brockell posted to Twitter to share the news that her son had died in the womb. She said technology companies should have realised this from her post, or other online activity resulting from the death of her child. However, she claims they remained focused on her early pregnancy-related posts, in servicing her with numerous baby related adverts and products.
Gillian Brockell also shared the lengthy letter expressing her disappointment in the sites algorithms, which saw her bombarded with plenty of baby product and services adverts, which constantly reminded her of her dead baby son.
— Gillian Brockell (@gbrockell) December 11, 2018
“But didn’t you also see me googling ‘is this braxton hicks’? and ‘baby not moving’? Did you not see the three days of silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me?” Brockwell wrote in her letter. “And then the announcement with keywords like ‘heartbroken’ and ‘problem’ and ‘stillborn’ and the two-hundred teardrop emoticons from my friends? Is that not something you could track?”
Brockell also brought up that when she tried to actively prevent the technology companies from showing her pregnancy-related promotions, they had misunderstood her response.
“When we millions of millions of brokenhearted people helpfully click ‘I don’t want to see this ad,’ and even answer your ‘why?’ with the cruel-but-true ‘it’s not relevant to me,’ do you know what your algorithm decides, Tech Companies?” the letter continued. “It decides you’ve given birth, assumes a happy result, and deluges you with ads for the best nursing bras, tricks to get the baby to sleep through the night and the best strollers to grow with your baby.
“And then, after all that, Experian swoops in with the lowest tracking blow of them all: a spam email encouraging me to ‘finish registering your baby’ (I never ‘started’ but sure) to track his credit throughout the life he will never lead.”
Facebook’s advertising chief, Rob Goldman, has been the first to reach out to Brockell regarding her letter. Whilst he apologised for her experience, he pointed out that the site’s settings includes an option to block ads on certain topics the user may find painful, including parenting.
“It still needs improvement, but please know that we’re working on it” he commented.
Gillian Brockell thanked him for his reply, but she added that the solution wasn’t ideal, saying that finding these settings was too confusing when grieving, suggesting that certain keywords (such as “stillborn” in her case) should trigger an ad break.
Twitter also issued a statement to the grieving mother: “We cannot imagine the pain of those who have experienced this type of loss. We are continuously working on improving our advertising products to ensure they serve appropriate content to the people who use our services.”
As for Facebook’s Hide Ad settings, others have claimed they did not always work, as last month an English mother who experienced the same loss as Brockell, also said that she was still targeted by baby-related ads.
Online advertisements can be nuisance sometimes and they can even make some people feel paranoid, but when they become even painful for a user, particularly when suffering a loss of life, that’s when something really ought to be done about it.
We can only hope that both Facebook and Twitter’s algorithm’s can improve, or perhaps they shouldn’t be using targeted ads in the first place, since it suggests an invasion of privacy, in that they’re collecting data from people whom are active on their platforms, in order to conduct an onslaught of targeted adverts. But we already knew that, as this story proves.
Read Gillian Brockell’s full open letter below!
Story by Emily Clark
Featured Photo Credit: Flickr