Hiding pregnancy from the marketing machine

A mother holds a baby's head

When couples find out they are expecting, they usually spread the news to family and friends as soon as possible. When Janet Vertesi, an assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University, found out she was pregnant, she made a very similar call to family and friends, but with very different intentions.

Those close to Vertesi and her husband were told not to post anything on social media sites that would reveal the couples' pregnancy. Vertesi had decided to take her pregnancy off the grid, not because she wasn't overjoyed, but because marketing bots that figure out when a woman is pregnant become relentless in their targeted advertising.

Vertesi says the project was inspired by the invasiveness of data driven marketing that seems to go unchecked. So for the last nine months, she and her husband have paid for all baby-related expenses in cash, avoided social media, and used Tor, a browser that lets you use the internet anonymously, to visit sites like Babycenter.com and Namberry.com. 

"So many of those websites also have trackers and cookies that know that you’re visiting so they can follow you around with advertising afterwards," says Vertesi. What she noticed in hiding her pregnancy from marketing bots was that her activity looked more like someone involved in illegal activity than someone about to have a baby. Tor, for example, is notoriously used for drug deals.

While she wouldn't recommend the experiment to others, Vertesi says it raised some interesting questions:

"What I would recommend is thinking seriously about how and where you want your data to go...That doesn’t mean, 'Don’t participate in social networks' or 'Don’t buy anything online.' But it does mean it’s time to think seriously about how and where we want to engage in these kinds of transactions."

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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