When Gillian Brockell got pregnant, tech company algorithms easily figured it out—thanks to her use of hashtags like #babybump, social media posts about her baby shower, and an Amazon registry featuring her due date, among other things—and quickly started serving her ads for maternity clothes and nursery decor. But when she lost her baby at 30 weeks gestation, she came home to those same ads. Why, she asks in a heartbreaking open letter that's gone viral, didn't those same algorithms figure out what had happened? "Didn't you also see me googling 'is this braxton hicks?' and 'baby not moving'?" she asks in the letter posted on Twitter. "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?"
Worse, when she clicked "I don't want to see this ad" and followed the steps to report why—"It's not relevant to me"—those same algorithms, rather than concluding something devastating had occurred, assumed she had given birth to a living child. She started getting ads for nursing bras, baby sleep aids, and strollers. Considering there are 26,000 stillbirths in the US every year, she writes, we need to do better. "Please, Tech Companies, I implore you," she concludes. "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 replies to Brockell's tweet include other similar stories, like a man whose Facebook "Year in Review" contains painful reminders of his son who died unexpectedly or a mom whose preemie died, but Pinterest failed to notice. (Her maternity pics went viral; then, tragedy.)