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.
First, Vertesi made sure there were absolutely no mentions of her pregnancy on social media, which is one of the biggest ways marketers collect information. She called and emailed family directly to tell them the good news, while also asking them not to put anything on Facebook. She even unfriended her father after he sent a congratulatory Facebook message.
She also made sure to only use cash when buying anything related to her pregnancy, so no information could be shared through her credit cards or store-loyalty cards. For items she did want to buy online, Vertesi created an Amazon account linked to an email address on a personal server, had all packages delivered to a local locker and made sure only to use Amazon gift cards she bought with cash.
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.
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."