In this era of social media, increasingly, our lives are being lived on the internet. Advertisers are taking note and mining our status updates and internet searches for information about our personal lives, targeting online advertising to our interests and identities.
Janet Vertesi, an assistant sociology professor at Princeton, has attempted the impossible: she tried to hide her pregnancy from the internet. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Jezebel.com details her attempt to keep information out of the hands of advertisers while also explaining how this phenomenon is affecting women.
The tiniest bits of information, an Amazon order or an internet search, contribute to the web of data that companies are buying to target individuals. Data about pregnant women is fifteen times more valuable to companies than information about the average person, as parenting has increasingly become a consumer market. (See previous Citings about the economic investments of parenting and the luxury market for baby goods.)
In order to keep her pregnancy a secret, Vertesi and her husband paid for everything in cash or gift cards, asked their friends and family to keep all news off social media, and even searched for baby products using private browsing. The steps they took to avoid discovery could be seen as ‘suspicious.’ They even ended up paying cash for gift cards to spend online, a strategy that can trigger alarms when the prices get higher.
Jezebel.com discusses her experience saying, “In short, if you want to hide your pregnancy from big data, you’ve got to operate like a drug dealer.”
One concerning factor is what this means for pregnant women. Pregnancy status can be very personal and women can choose not to divulge their pregnancy for a wide range of reasons. If pregnancy is no longer private, what is?