Big Data

Cutting the Cord: How One Woman Tried to Hide Her Pregnancy From the Internet

Former Staff Writer
3 min read

Most pregnant women wishing to conceal a baby bump simply don baggier tops or dresses falling loose at the waist, in slimming hues.

But when Janet Vertesi, an assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University, decided to conceal her pregnancy from the ever-watchful glare of big data, the project became a vast and intricate mission.

First, Vertesi warned family and friends not to make any note of the pregnancy on social media. (When friends sent congratulatory Facebook messages they believed were more private than wall posts, Vertesi had to explain that every interaction on the platform was being tracked.)

Related: Get Comfortable With Big Data in 3 Steps

Next, for baby shopping, Vertesi used cash whenever possible, and ordered the bulk of products via Tor -- software that enables anonymous browsing and which is perhaps best known as a gateway to the Silk Road, a former black market for drugs, weapons and other illegal goods traded via Bitcoin.

Vertesi made other purchases with Amazon gift cards (bought with cash) that were linked to a private account, delivered exclusively to local lockers.

But why such an inconvenient undertaking? According to an interview with Think Progress, the pursuit was less about a fear of technology than a social experiment, Vertesi said. (She noted, however, that she has abstained from using all Google products since the company changed its privacy policy in 2012 to aggregate user data across all of its platforms.)

“There is this rapid rise of a technologized industry to track, collect, analyze and identify,” she told Think Progress. “And I just wanted to see: what would it take to not be detected? Could I do it?”

Related: Big Data Isn't Just For Big Businesses Anymore

Pregnant women, especially, are low-hanging fruit for marketers, reports Mashable, because long-term purchasing patterns -- such as what brand of diapers to buy -- are generally established at this juncture.

Though Vertesi soon discovered that existing in the shadows of a Google-tapped world came with expenses of its own. In addition to being “extremely impractical and very inconvenient,” Vertesi said, missing out on discounts was frustrating and social media interactions were fraught with paranoia of being outed.

“Fortunately, we never had the FBI show up at our door,” Vertesi told Think Progress. “But you start noticing the lengths, the extremes you have to go to to try to not be tracked. They put you in a very, very discomfiting position. So I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Related: How to Manage a Pregnancy and a Business

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