Why a mother mourning her stillborn baby penned a heart-wrenching open letter to tech companies

A mother mourning her stillborn baby penned a heart-wrenching open letter to tech companies, urging them to update the algorithms they use to target online advertisements to pregnant women based on their search history, social media activity and other online behavior.
Gillian Brockell, a video editor for the Washington Post, tweeted the note on Tuesday, addressing it specifically to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and data company Experian. “I know you knew I was pregnant,” she begins, retracing her online steps that would lead tech companies to that conclusion. “It’s my fault, I just couldn’t resist those Instagram hashtags — #30weekspregnant, #babybump. And, stupid me! I even clicked once or twice on the maternity-wear ads Facebook served up.”
The Washington native goes on to mention her baby shower, which was heavily documented on social media, and her all-too-telling Google searches, such as “holiday dress maternity plaid” and “babysafe crib plant.” Then she referenced the Amazon baby gift registry she’d created. “I bet Amazon even told you my due date, January 24th,” she wrote.

But that’s when things took a turn. Brockell describes in her open letter the process of realizing something was wrong. “Didn’t you see me Googling, ‘Is this Braxton Hicks?’ and ‘baby not moving’?,” she implored. “Did you not see the three days of silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me?” She referenced the many keywords that advertising algorithms could have picked up on to understand her condition had taken a tragic turn — terms like “heartbroken,” “problem,” and “stillborn,” as well as all the teardrop emoticons her friends used when she finally announced that her baby had died in utero. “Is that not something you could track?” she asks.
Then Brockell describes the crushing realization that her online experience was becoming a daily reminder of her loss. “Let me tell you what social media is like when you finally come home from the hospital with the emptiest arms in the world, after you’ve spent days sobbing in bed,” she begins, before explaining that she’s still being served ads for maternity clothes, nursery “tchotchkes,” strollers that grow as the baby does (“mine will forever be 4 pounds, 1 ounce,” she says) and unsolicited parenting advice, like how to get a baby to sleep through the night (“I would give anything to hear him cry at all,” she writes).
She attributed “the lowest tracking blow of them all” to Experian, though, which sent her an email reminding her to finish registering her baby to track his credit throughout his life. “I never ‘started,’ but sure,” she writes, referring to “the life he will never lead.”
She finishes her note by spelling out her plea to the companies in charge of creating the algorithms that target consumers. “Please, Tech Companies, I implore you,” she writes. “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.”
The moving note has since been shared more than 19,000 times and has 1,800 comments from people sending their condolences to Brockell and commiserating with the mom’s frustration. “I lost four pregnancies (although thankfully all much earlier) so I absolutely understand exactly how horrific these posts can be. So sorry and wishing you all the best in persuading them to tackle this,” one fellow mom wrote. “This is so eloquently put and I am so sorry and angry the algorithms are so indifferently cruel,” another tweeted.
The note even found its way to Rob Goldman, who is a vice president of advertising at Facebook, who replied publicly on Twitter. He sent his condolences for Brockell’s loss and offered a suggestion: “We have a setting available that can block ads about some topics people may find painful — including parenting.,” he wrote, noting that the tool is still a work in progress and he welcomes any feedback.

Brockell responded that she’d since been shown how to turn off the ads, but “it’s too confusing when you’re grieving. That’s why I was suggesting a keyword like ‘stillborn’ triggering an ad break.” Some weighed in to say the ad-blocking tool hadn’t worked for them, and that “people need more control over their data, [and the] ability to remove info you have collected.”
On Nov. 30, Brockell posted the heartbreaking announcement that her baby — a son she named Sohan Singh Gulshan — was stillborn. “Unbenownst to us, something went wrong a few weeks ago, he stopped growing and then passed away,” she wrote. “The doctors have an idea of what happened and are hopeful we’ll be able to try again in the future. But right now, we are devastated.”
In her open letter, Brockell refers to what is commonly known as “targeted advertising,” a strategy in which websites use browser cookies to track an individual’s online behavior, then share it automatically with third-party advertisers. If that individual then clicks on another site within that same advertising network, according to the Washington Post, they’ll be served ads for the same products and services they had clicked on previously.
Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to Brockell, as well as representatives at Facebook and Experian, for their reaction to Brockell’s letter and will update this article when we hear back.
Why a mother mourning her stillborn baby penned a heart-wrenching open letter to tech companies Why a mother mourning her stillborn baby penned a heart-wrenching open letter to tech companies Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 06:23 Rating: 5

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