By now the vast majority of us are well aware that we are being watched. Our every click of the computer or swipe of the iPhone results in a random popup that is eerily related to whatever it was we were recently searching for. So perhaps not random at all, but instead driven by carefully calculated algorithms that are formulated by tech companies. Most of us become annoyed by the barrage of popups, but one woman was more than annoyed as she opened her screen computer. She was nothing, if not devastated, by what she found herself staring at through her crushing misery.
Gillian Brockell, a video producer for the Washington Post, had recently lost her unborn son. Little Sohan came into the world stillborn on December 1st. For a parent to carry a child for nine months only to deliver an angel is a pain that other parents can't begin to wrap their minds around. Sadly, Brockell had no choice but to do exactly that and come to terms with what would now never be.
Before her stillbirth, the world had shared in Brockell's joy as she shared her pregnancy milestones with the internet through hashtags, social media posts and search inquiries. It is these very things that signaled to tech companies what should be sent via advertising pop-ups to Brockell. Even after her internet searches included terms like "stillbirth" the algorithms continued to assume that she had delivered and was now a new mother. Specific adverts were sent her, rubbing salt into a gaping, festering wound that likely would not be closing anytime soon.
Brockell responded by writing an open letter to the very tech companies that were further breaking her heart with every pop up they sent out. She begged them to recognize that if they were indeed cunning enough to realize that she was pregnant, they should not realize she has suffered a significant loss and could adjust to advertise appropriately, or maybe not at all. Is there no formula in these advertising algorithms that signal a big old STOP if someone receives a life-altering blow like losing a child? Apparently not, but they should.
In an age where absolutely nothing seems off limits, Brockell and plenty of others are pleading for a speck of privacy. While we recognize that when it comes to technological advancements, there is no turning back, can't there still be some room for empathy and humanity?
We sure hope so.
May little Sohan eternally rest in peace and may his mother's passionate letter be taken seriously by those who can make a change.