She'd just had a stillborn child. Tech companies wouldn't let her forget it

A woman pleads with tech companies like Facebook and Twitter to stop serving her ads to intensify her grief.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Don't even try to imagine the pain.

Instead, listen to it in the words of Gillian Brockell.

She lost her child when she was 32 weeks pregnant and every day she went online, she was reminded of what had happened.

Her pain and exasperation were so great that she took to Twitter to beg companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Experian to just stop.

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Stop and think. Stop and imagine the hurt they were causing by persistently offering baby-related ads on every web page she visited.

Ad after ad was served up. Each of those was one more dagger.

You see, she was a frequent user of social media. When everything was fine with her baby, she even contributed a baby-related hashtag or two. But now her baby was dead.

She wrote to the tech companies, enraged that they saw all the positive signs she'd posted, but none of the negative ones:

Didn't you also see me googling 'is this Braxton Hicks? and 'baby not moving?' Did you not see three days of silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me? 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?

It's odd, isn't it, that tech companies have a secret pride in how much they can track everyone. But when it comes to understanding what they track, their machines are as inadequate as a paper fork.

Brockell, a Washington Post video editor, says she tried to click on the painful ads as not relevant to her. They kept coming. It's a shame these tech companies don't offer the option of clicking You're Hurting Me or Where's Your Heart, You Pig?

Yet the tech companies, she says, merely decided that the fact the ads weren't relevant must mean she'd had her baby and everything was fine. So they tried to tempt her to buy the best nursing bras, tricks to send her baby to sleep and the very best strollers.

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Experian even tried to lure her via spam mail into completing the registration for her baby -- she hadn't started doing this, for many obvious reasons -- so that his credit could be tracked for life.

Because that's the goal of all tech companies. To track human beings for life. What better than to begin at inception?

Reading her words is a grueling reminder of the gulf between what tech companies do and what humanity feels.

Facebook, for one, replied on Twitter.

Its VP of ads, Rob Goldman offered Silicon Valley platitudes:

I am so sorry for your loss and your painful experience with our products. We have a setting available that can block ads about some topics people may find painful -- including parenting. It still needs improvement, but please know that we're working on it & welcome your feedback.

Your painful experience with our products.

Tech companies promise personalization, but are rooted in automation. They make assumptions from your online behavior and extrapolate to your whole life.

To them, you have to be reduced to some sort of category and number, otherwise their systems simply won't "understand" you.

And then they have to categorize you, because they have to reveal your "anonymized" data to prospective advertisers.

The utterly gruesome part of today's tech world is that the goal is to create a whole system, into which everyone has to be shoved.

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It doesn't have time for individual feelings, because it's too busy collecting data points that can be common from one person to the next.

Who can't be moved by Brockell's words, as she pleads:

Tech companies, if you're smart enough to realize that I'm pregnant, that I've given birth, then surely you're smart enough to realize my baby died, and can advertise to me accordingly, or maybe just maybe, not at all.

Oh, but the machines were made to make money, not friends.

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Previous and related coverage:

Facebook's latest headache: How to spot "deep fake" videos

Facebook is facing an uphill battle automating the detection of misinformation in photos and videos.

Twitter says it receives half a million of spam reports per month

Twitter's latest Transparency Report also shows a rise in government requests for user data.

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