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I tried to keep my unborn child secret from Facebook and Google (wired.co.uk)
78 points by imartin2k 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

Before Firefox Multi-containers, Amazon decided my wife and I were pregnant. I've shared the story on Hacker News before, so I won't go into too much detail, but the short of it is - it decided (incorrectly) that we were pregnant, and started sending weekly "you're pregnant, read our tips, buy things" emails to me. As a couple with troubles conceiving... it was not welcomed. It was salt on a wound. And thus far, I have found no recourse. I'm uncomfortable that corporations can readily collect and analyze information about us, misinterpret it at times, and attempt to influence our behaviors and choices based on this. It's not a new problem - humans have done this before. Now computers do it, and very large companies that do not care about "rounding errors" are not really prepared to apologize or improve their systems to avoid causing some people emotional pain or any other problem.

I'm reminded of a blog post about Facebook's "X years ago today" feature that has shown people pictures of dead children or other relatives, burned out houses, car accidents, and other memories that the algorithm chipperly suggests they share to their timeline. A lack of consideration is definitely a thing.

Yep. I got that on the one year anniversary of our dog (then a six month old puppy) running away, and my post letting everyone know and how to get in touch with me if they found him. Thankfully that had a happy ending and he's sleeping upstairs on the bed right now, but it wasn't something I really wanted to be reminded of. I can imagine how much worse I'd have felt if we weren't able to find him again, or found him dead on the side of the road or something.

There was the "this is what your year looked like" feature that was, uh..., not good to Eric Meyer.


My iPhone did this to me. I’m sure people get suggested to share memories of their abusive ex all the time. :(

When you change your marital status from married to divorce, Facebook offers to hide your former spouse from your feed, and won't show her (him) in memories either. So, while I like to bash on social networks as much as the next guy, they are trying to be helpful with things like these.

just like black mirror

you can mark events or people to not show up

You can also turn it off completely now; I believe this wasn't always possible.

Nordstrom thinks I'm an about-20 woman and sent me relevant ads in email for some time. I quite like Nordstrom but had to cancel because there was no way to tell them they were very wrong.

Youtube thinks I'm a conservative after I watched a few videos by Tim Pool.

Just about any service thinks my SO is a man.

It’s amazing how we have to cognizantly “open in private window” when we’re doing deep dives on things that we may disagree with.

The algo seems to assume you agree with everything you watch, so you have to be mindful of not sending it mixed signals.

I've actually conditioned myself to do basically anything in a private window. With Brave mobile I can keep YouTube playing ad-free with the screen locked (or on other screens), so it doesn't affect much there. Plus, it means I don't see other stuff filtering in that I'm not in the mood for (except their promoted crap that quite often has literally no relation to what I'm doing). I'll often even do it on browser too, simply because ad-free without thr tracking and being associated with my Gmail (which I really need to convince myself to get rid of)

I have to confess this never occurred to me but it's a great point.

Does anyone know how much a private window really helps? It should cut out cookies but does not hide your IP address or clickstream patterns.

Based on my Gmail ads Google thinks I want to meet up with single women in their 50s. I'm not sure if they think I am in my 50s or if I like older women.

> As a couple with troubles conceiving... it was not welcome

This reminds me that Skype insists on reminding me it’s Father’s Day. My father died when I was 11 and it’s still something that hurts even though I’m now in my 40s.

I previously disliked Skype because it’s terrible software, but the lack of any consideration or even any opt out makes me actively despise Skype. If I didn’t have to use it for work I’d drop it in a second.

I’m sure somebody, who’s had a perfect life, just didn’t think what effect a message like this might have. However, it does just seem like yet another example of how our industry can be so blinkered.

As much as I hate targeted advertising, which leaves you in a silo, categorised, with no hope of ever seeing an ad for something you would buy but didn't know existed.

But if drive past a billboard or there's a poster on the door you're going through, you'll still see this and it will probably bring up bad feelings. Is that correct? Or is it just that the targeted ones are trying to be more personal, whilst getting it so wrong?

A billboard is impersonal. Reminding me to buy something for Mother's Day is temporarily irksome but I drive by and forget about it. In contrast, the vendors sending personalized 2-3 week flood of "HEY EPC HAVE YOU REMEMBERED YOUR MOTHER AND BOUGHT A MOTHER'S DAY GIFT YET?" emails every April/May buy themselves a permanent place in my .killfile. No, I don't expect every company I do business with to know my parents are dead, but let me opt out of this flood of crap every year.

No, it doesn't leave me with the same feeling, with Skype it feels really invasive and insensitive. It's also totally unnecessary. It's not a company trying to sell Father's Day cards, or a product of some sort, it's the messenger application I use for communicating with business colleagues. There is literally no need for it.

I have a foreign name that is often incorrectly tagged as female because of a popular 90s TV show. I had many schoolteachers over the years make jokes about it which they thought were funny but I found hurtful. Getting a female-targeted mail ad is not very amusing after one or two times.

Everyone (generally) who emails me for the first time uses a misspelling of my surname as my given name. I like to think First Last is an easy pattern but obviously not. That all said, I feel your pain.

Yeah for some reason I've started getting snail mail marketing for expecting parents. We are on an IVF journey, and in the unfortunate event we don't get the result we want, I'm not looking forward to a poorly timed mailing.

> and started sending weekly "you're pregnant, read our tips, buy things" emails to me

Unsubscribe. It's Amazon not some shady co. Amazon doesn't email me, or my wife.

Considering the number of items and significant chance of counterfeit, it's better just to stay away from Amazon.

I've not bought anything in 6 or so months from them. And I'm better for it. If I want 100% legit counterfeits, I can order from Aliexpress :-D

That's like slapping a crown on a rotting tooth and calling it good - you prevent the problem from affecting your daily life, but nothing has been fixed and the clock is ticking...

What's the problem at that point? That some algorithms on a faraway computer still think you might be pregnant? So?

The problem is that confidential details of your personal life which you have never agreed to share are being collected and arguably weaponized for the sake of financial gain.

That's a US problem more or less endemic to how the industry works. You can complain about it, but the best recourse is never using those companies again. Eventually, we'll all hopefully come to this conclusion and every cesspool of dark patterns will die somewhere we don't have to see it.

I'm very happy to hear it's less of a problem in other countries. I admire your optimism and hope for the same :)

This response will satisfy probably no one, but the recourse is to stop using their service.

I might surprise you! I really have greatly diminished my Amazon spending. No more Prime, Subscription groceries/household items; I'll get my electronics at NewEgg, B&H/BuyDig or even Best Buy. Going to buy things other places while they're still around.

> As a couple with troubles conceiving... it was not welcomed. It was salt on a wound.

As a trans woman who repeatedly gets ads for period stuff, I feel much the same way.

At first, I thought it was cute. "Aww look, I even pass to the ad algorithm", and it eventually turned into "oh fuck, another reminder that my body is never going to work the way it was supposed to".

And it got stronger and stronger as time went on. It started with the occasional ad for pads in Gmail's promotions tab... then I started seeing ads for period products on Facebook... and then I repeatedly got ads inviting me to take part in clinical studies for painful periods and ads for all different kind of menstrual products, to the point where just loading Facebook would set off my dysphoria.


"If you don't want period-related ads, then you must not want to be treated like a woman?" That feels like a bit of a leap.

But the reason they were segmented for period related ads was because they were being treated without discrimination as if they were (to the advertiser) "just a woman".

The parent appears to want to be recognised as "not a woman" (in this respect, at least), which goes against everything I've read from others before.

So, I was curious and wanted to know if the commenter thought this was common, or if they recognised it as peculiar to themselves.

Guess I'll never know because somehow probing peoples overt statements is unwanted here?

> But the reason they were segmented for period related ads was because they were being treated without discrimination as if they were (to the advertiser) "just a woman".

I'm pretty sure the complaint is treating woman as equivalent to people with periods, not treating the complaining person as a woman.

She wasn’t treated like she were female, she was treated like if she had periods. Which, obviously, not all women have. It’s trans-erasure to assume that they all do.

Both you and OP are conflating "woman" and "female" (i.e. gender and biological sex).

Not all people of female biological sex have periods, either.

Not wanting to be treated as a person with a period isn't the same as not wanting to be treated as a woman or a female.

> Not all people of female biological sex have periods, either.

Sometimes for emotionally charged reasons.

This is an important issue, but this article seems almost entirely devoid of content with some links to other articles. It's like a lazy 16-year-old was asked to write an essay. You could sum it up by saying "I tried not to let my unborn child's existence known to advertising networks, but it was hard, particularly without alienating my friends and family." I wonder how many ad impressions it will generate for Wired.

That's a little bit unfortunate, as I think that the topic could be explored much, much deeper. For example, are there any social considerations when it comes to not sharing these details? Will you be ostracized or seen as weird by your friends, will you maybe even trigger automated alarm systems because your behaviour is seen as fraudulent, etc.

(at least the last part is alluded to, but it comes through yet another link; if I want to follow many links, I go browse Wikipedia, not an article that purports to be a long-form essay about an interesting topic)

Off the cuff here, being seen as weird is a social construct. Making personal desicions with confidence inspires confidence in others. If “friends” see your actions as weird and you’ve made your decisions with thought and deliberation then you are faced with the question, are these people really your friends? In the case of privacy we share a situation where society is being normalized to make decisions that is not in the best interest of individuals writ large but instead favors the bottom line and profits of a few corporations that could not care less if we live or die. Actions being seen as fraudulent is just an enforcement mechanism to protect these motives. Opinions are changed one individual at a time, but as opinions change so to does society. As someone who is deeply appalled by the current state of affairs, I encourage anyone who feels the same to stay strong. These corporate culprits of societal rot are just one mass migration away from folding. It’s happened before and it will happen again. We on hacker news are the ones leading the charge.

This is definitely the more interesting article referred to in terms of social consequences: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits....

Edit: Had a bit of whiplash when I realised that this article was from seven years ago. How far we've come.

You're right, that sentence captures it entirely, the rest is additional words but not additional meaning.

Which is convenient because most people will only read the headline before sharing it:


The linked article http://time.com/83200/privacy-internet-big-data-opt-out/ explores the issue a tiny bit deeper. But still, the only conclusion is basically "We felt like criminals trying to avoid the internet knowing I was pregnant".

Maybe I am just being cynical, but part of me thinks their real motive in keeping their unborn child a secret is so they can register the domain name and claim social media profiles for their child before they are born.

The only article part of the article I found ironic, is the site that the writer used imploring me to disable ad-blocker so they can generate revenue... on an article that tells me about all the reasons why targeted ads suck.

> Opting out of tracking and targeting, it turns out, isn’t an option. There is no such thing as a purely transactional transaction. Every purchase I make and every website I visit is recorded, tracked and indelibly tagged to scores of profiles sold by data brokers I’ve never heard of to companies I’ve never heard of in an attempt to persuade me to spend £150 on a Chicco Next 2 Me Bedside Crib. Spoiler: I did.

And this is why advertisers are invasive. If you feed the trolls (or advertisers in this case) they come back for more.

As an aside, it would be hilarious if this entire article was sponsored content for that crib.

this is why i use cash whenever possible. most transactions should be one time events

I tried to read the article, but Wired gave me this: https://imgur.com/GzFnA54

You don't use the right add blockers. I was able to read it with uBlock Origin and uMatrix

I find it somewhat amusing this is even something we discuss--that there are "right" and "wrong" ad blockers is such a twisted re-framing of our right to personal privacy as default.

(I'm not indemnifying you at all, just find the concept itself fascinating).

I got that message in the right column with ublock origin- I could still read the article. The problem with sites that do this is that they don't tell you which scripts to allow in order to see advertising. There are a bajillion scripts loading, including facebook and twitter and instagram and vine, and I'm not going to allow those. But when I enabled the other stuff then no ads showed.

I don't mind seeing ads, and I'll even click on them if they are interesting, but it's going to be on my terms. Maybe I should open wired in a container or something.

After further review, I opened in a new container, turned off ublock origin and ghostery, and saw zero ads. Hmmm.

Wired runs just fine with JS completely disabled. You won't get this, either.

(Support them with a magazine subscription though!)

I tried to look at your graphic, but imgur wont work without javascript enabled. On the other hand, this wired article worked fine and I saw no ads.

It's a "please disable ad blocker" message

maybe give the browser extension "imagus" a try, pretty useful.

> we didn’t want to be stalked around the internet by adverts for breast pumps and baby carriers

Install an ad blocker.


That alone is not enough. If you use Facebook, Twitter or Google, they track your usage of the service and make inferences. Even if you turn that off or don't use those services, advertisers who are also spying on you (for example, Amazon knowing your purchase history) will give them data on you. And so on.

That does feel like the obvious solution but no doubt they couldn't mention that in an article published on a website where they make most of their money through ads

>Let me just open up Tor so we can read through advice pages on the NHS website. Signing up for classes about the trauma of childbirth? Hold on a second while I setup a new email account on a private server so Google doesn’t scan my inbox for keywords. Excited family members sending you questions on Facebook Messenger? Ask them to immediately delete all those messages and download Signal instead.

Wow. Just use Firefox and a $5/month email service. Where did this myth that privacy protecting applications were difficult to use come from? Firefox is just as easy as chrome, and Signal's only difficulty is getting other people to use it, not the UI. I understand actually ensuring your data doesn't leak is difficult, but the apps to use are certainly not difficult.

I use Firefox, a very unpopular paid email service from Germany, pihole for dns level ad blocking, ublock origin, DuckDuckGo as default search engine and use TOR for any medically sensitive searches or embarrassing stuff... still get targeted ads for things happening in my life which I thought I took enough precautions to hide from the ad trackers.. there is simply no easy way

See also this story:

For all of the supposed liberating power of their digital devices, they might as well be wearing ankle monitors.

Today’s students live their lives so publicly — through the technology we provide them without training — that much simpler errors than mine earn them the wrath of the entire internet.


For anyone still holding onto the belief they can break free of being tracked and sold and still remain functional in modern life, I offer you a challenge: For one month, do everything in your power to avoid being tracked. Take it as far as you can.

A year ago I attempted this by seeing what exactly I would need to do just to simply build my own cell phone, just to call, which did not allow any kind of tracking. Every layer you step through, from components to software to the telecom infrastructure itself has some finger in the pie. For the first time that stoner-ism "it's the SYSTEM, man" began to take a concrete form, like discovering some invisible forces just under the surface, governing our behavior. That's when I pulled the plug for my own sanity.

How it is we not only accepted this, but allow an entire market to exist buying and selling our personal lives (of which of course we ourselves do not profit directly from), still astounds me.

Keeping your life private is no longer the default mode. It's now more like going to the gym: it requires continuous drive and effort. Most don't have the time or the resources to even think about personal privacy, let alone take some kind of meaningful action.

Commendable effort, some critiques about the inconvenience of relearning the internet:

Yes opening TOR to run a search query is just as easy as having Chrome open all the time too.

The non-google email that you also made over TOR should be set up already.

Regarding social networks, delete your account. Make a new one with no phone number or a different phone number. This breaks the social graph. Honestly, just don't add people back to it. Your immediate family knows how to contact you, and if you add them back the whole social graph relinks you with them. Download your data if you have attachment issues. You can avoid the awkward "I don't have that network" conversation by actually having one, for some people you meet. For others, use the other way to contact you.

If a Google Voice no longer works to signup to a social network, and you don't want to pay for an additional line, then head on over to dark net marketplaces because you can pay people to get the phone number confirmation codes for you there. But of course, you can probably also find someone on Fiverr if someone convinced you DNMs are "scary". DNM providers likely have better access to mass phone numbers.

I just finished reading Ted Kaczynski’s (the unabomber) book Technological Slavery. Yeah he was a domestic terrorist who most likely hurt technological reform more than helped it, but there were still a lot of good points related to this post.

The more we rely on technology the more powerless and less free we become.

This is why we need the EU, and laws like GDPR and the Right to be Forgotten:

Google's Eric Schmidt suggests that young people should change their name upon reaching adulthood https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/7951269/Young-...

Facebook's Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy Is Over https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/external/readwri...

In pre-Internet days, people managed. You would go to stores and buy stuff. Many did so with cash. If you wanted to learn about something, you'd buy a book, go to the library, or subscribe to a magazine (that last one was likely selling your information in those days).

Then came the Internet. Comparing the before and after, the only strong benefit of the Internet is much better and cheaper access to information. Unfortunately, the "cheaper" part means you end up sacrificing something.

I too would like not to be tracked on the Internet. But I'm not going to forget that I did live a life before the Internet, and it was quite a reasonable life. Moreover, that life is by no means obsolete in today's age. You can get most of what you want in the article while still having the Internet. Just don't try to live your whole life (knowledge + purchases) online.

> But I'm not going to forget that I did live a life before the Internet, and it was quite a reasonable life.

Think of the generation that doesn't have this firsthand knowledge and were born after the pre-internet era. They behaviors are shaped in completely different ways and they have no pre-internet benchmark to compare it to.

>You would go to stores and buy stuff. Many did so with cash.

The article not only touches on purchases, but also facial recognition and the trouble with keep your friends and family from revealing the child. Not as simple as "buy stuff offline with cash".

>The article not only touches on purchases, but also facial recognition and the trouble with keep your friends and family from revealing the child.

I'm aware of that. No rule that says you have to touch on the whole article when commenting on the Internet :-)

As for friends and family: To be honest, that's always been a problem, even before the Internet. My experience in both eras has been that people will leak information to people you don't, and the only solution I know of is to separate the world into people who can keep things to themselves, and those who cannot.

Granted, it's a bit more complicated now. Even a "trusted" person could message you, and the information leaks to the intermediaries.

It's the obsession with instant gratification that's the problem.

If people didn't feel compelled to read/buy/communicate/watch everything and everyone everywhere right now, they'd find themselves significantly less tracked, and possibly a lot less stressed.

The problem is not the web tracking, the problem is your obsession about it. Stop worrying about it and your mental health will improve. Are you going to raise your kid to be afraid of the shadows around every corner?

> The problem is not the web tracking, the problem is your obsession about it.

The problem is the web tracking. And spending even a tiny amount of energy reviewing and installing Ublock Origin improves one's mental health in a way that's obvious when observing the browsing patterns of somebody who doesn't block ads.

If one wants to extend that obsession down to the source of web tracking and attempt to hide one's behavior from the entire advertising industry, that may run the risk of having a detrimental effect on one's health. But a) there is potentially new information which can be gleaned from trying, and b) one can always scale back to and depend on an easy-to-install set of ad-blocking solutions to filter the worst of it.

The only thing you'd save from not worrying at all about web tracking is a small up-front cost of installing an ad-blocker. Those savings pales in comparison to the distractions of being a constant subject to ads.

I don’t have a problem with installing ad blockers. That’s not what the article or my response to it is about at all.

>The problem is not the web tracking, the problem is your obsession about it. Stop worrying about it

The problem is not climate change, the problem is your obsession about it. Stop worrying about it

The problem is not the rampant corruption, the problem is your obsession about it. Stop worrying about it

The problem is not ___ ______, the problem is your obsession about it. Stop worrying about it

Just give up, right?


Advertisement improves economic efficiency, resulting in increased prosperity. It’s part of the desperately needed decoupling of economic growth and energy consumption.

Whether the parameters of some neural net are trained on the Facebook pictures of your baby you uploaded is entirely insignificant.

On the other hand, the psychological harm this author will do to their baby if they raise them with an attitude of fear and anxiety is likely to cause them to suffer greatly.

I’m not sure what you mean by “pushed to the fringes” - it seems this author’s isolation is self-imposed. I’m familiar with the ways depression and anxiety can isolate a person, so I’m sympathetic. But it’s often not useful to express that fight-or-flight response by trying to spread your anxieties to others. Learning to distinguish which perceived problems actually matter is important. Most of them can be dealt with inside your head, or by talking them through with someone you trust. Learning to do this has greatly improved my quality of life and my personal relationships.

Removing regulations on financial institutions also improves economic efficiency. It also results in stuff like say, the 2008 housing collapse, or the failure of entire countries (see: Greece).

Arguing against privacy protection by claiming its for the benefit of our economy is just rehashing the "free market vs regulated market" argument. Sure, economic efficiency improves. Our wellbeing? Not always.

Is ad tracking pervasiveness the same as locking factory workers inside a burning building? Probably not. But we learned well from that mistake almost a century ago. We'll learn from this one too.

These seem like complete non-sequiters, what does ad tracking have to do with mispriced insurance on mortgage-backed securities? How will ad tracking cause the economy to collapse? It seems like you are just bringing up an unrelated traumatic event from the past to scare people. I read that exotic mortgages are making a comeback - maybe congress should focus on that instead of grilling tech CEOs about advertising.

I see where I wasn't clear in addressing your point--I am not trying to equate ad tracking with securities fraud or workplace ethics disasters, I am comparing their role in shaping our current behaviors and perspectives.

In general, we didn't foresee the consequences of derivative markets for mortgage backed securities until it was too late, even though some raised concerns. Now we're very well aware, enacting regulations to hopefully prevent it in the future, as well as provide clear channels for recovery and compensation for damages if it does.

In general, we didn't foresee the consequence of unregulated treatment for employees until it was too late, even though some raised concerns. Now we're very well aware, enacting regulations to hopefully prevent it in the future, as well as provide clear channels for recovery and compensation for damages if it does.

Comparing that to the tracking market today, we have effectively zero regulation and zero ability for recovery and compensation. We know the tracking market is so pervasive that meaningful living/working today requires submitting yourself to this. We also have articles like this one demonstrating clear concerns.

The only thing missing is an understanding of the consequences. We can't ever know the scope of the consequences until they've happened. We can however make predictions (both good and bad). It may be just fine, it may not.

Should we take steps now to mitigate the possible bad outcomes? Or should we gamble and let the consequences happen to us?

The same argument goes for most civic debate.

I don't know what a healthy social and regulatory relationship with the tech looks like. I don't believe anyone does yet. I do know that discussing it like we are now improves our understanding of its complexities, and that's always good.

Hope this makes sense.

Concerning the remark about congress--they're fully capable of addressing both. No reason for an either/or.

I agree, it’s important to consider the possible harms. When we come up with specific tangible harms, it’s worth writing legislation targeted to address those issues.

However, I’d also consider that there is an infite array of possible risks to address, and we are likely to be biased towards looking into the ones that are related to things we are paying the most attention to.

Due to the financial success of the tech giants, and specifically the shifting of ad spend from newspapers to tech companies, it seems to me we are likely thinking about the dangers of ad tracking too much, rather than too little. The media companies have unfortunately suffered from the success of tech, so it’s not surprising they would be on guard for problems the industry might cause. And Congress, of course, will use both the carrot and the stick to get their piece of the action in the form of campaign contributions.

We have a known-known slow-motion disaster happening right in front of us, that has already seriously damaged world we live on, and is projected to do much worse. That danger is coming from an industry that has had a lot more time to form stronger influence-trading bonds with the powers that be. I feel like we’re all being distracted with a dog-and-pony show when people are walking around scared about ad tracking when the Earth is burning. Maybe if the tech companies can stay at the top of the heap for a long time spending money buying Congress, loyalties will shift enough for the government to be willing to do what’s needed to put the reigns on extractive energy interests and solve humanity’s #1 problem (it pains me to suggest that buying Congress is ever a good thing, but I’m trying to be optimistic in the face of what seems like a huge disaster).

I'd be careful calling people names like that around here.

Defense of ad-tracking: increasing value for all parties by making ads more relevant and helping to keep services free. The only significant downside in my opinion is the possibility of data breaches giving the information to identity thieves etc. Otherwise I have no reason to be upset that some computers have determined, without any human involved, that I might be more likely to click on a Cheerios ad than a bicycle ad.

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