Connect with us


Anna England Kerr criticises Facebook ads after death of her baby



Anna England Kerr
Anna England


  • Anna England Kerr wrote an open letter to Facebook
    asking it to stop bombarding her with parenting adverts after
    the death of her baby daughter, Clara.
  • Clara was stillborn in June, and England Kerr tried
    everything she could to reconfigure her ad settings so she
    wouldn’t have to see baby-related ads on Facebook.
  • When her efforts failed to stem the tide of ads, she
    wrote an open letter to Facebook, which was picked up by the
  • After the BBC contacted Facebook for comment, England
    Kerr received a call from Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice
    president of EMEA. She

    said a bug in its Hide
    Ad Topics feature was to blame.
  • England Kerr believes online platforms need to make it
    easier for people to block potentially harmful targeted

A British woman has given a powerful account of being unable to
turn off targeted Facebook adverts after giving birth to
a stillborn baby.

Anna England Kerr’s daughter Clara was stillborn in June of this
year. England Kerr noticed that due to her online activity during
her pregnancy, her Facebook feed was full of parenting ads. She
adjusted her ad preferences to try and shut down the adverts, but
they kept appearing in her feed.

“I hadn’t expected everything to change immediately, but I
figured the sooner that we changed preferences then the better it
would be and the easier it would be to go back to Facebook,” she
told Business Insider.

However, altering her settings proved ineffective. “When I went
back on I realised absolutely nothing had changed,” she said. “In
fact, I think all of my ads were selling baby-related products.”

England Kerr found Facebook to be a useful tool following her
bereavement, because through it she found support groups. But the
constant presence of baby-related ads made it painful.

“The price for reaching out and for being able to contact that
support is seeing baby ads that are a constant reminder of what I
will never have with my daughter,” she said.

As well as attempting to block the promoted posts, she started
reporting ads as “not relevant,” and tried to retrain the
algorithm by clicking on non-baby promotions. She also installed
an ad blocker, but it only disabled adverts in the sidebar, not
sponsored content. “I really did try anything I could think of,”
she said.

Four months after Clara was born, England Kerr had had enough. “I
decided that during baby loss awareness week that I was going to
write an open letter to Facebook.” She published
the letter on her blog
and on Facebook, in which she said
Facebook was “unintentionally taunting” her with reminders of her

story was picked up by the BBC,
and England Kerr encouraged
people to file lots of bug reports to try and make Facebook sit
up and take notice.

A phone call from a top Facebook executive

After the BBC contacted Facebook for an official response,
England Kerr received a phone call from Nicola Mendelsohn,
Facebook’s vice president of EMEA.

Mendelsohn expressed her condolences, apologized that Facebook
had made her feel worse, and promised that this would be a high
priority issue to fix. She told England Kerr that the reason she
continued to see the ads was that there had been a bug in the
hide ad topics tool.

Nicola Mendelsohn
Nicola Mendelsohn of


“We’ve spoken to Anna and expressed our deep sympathy for her
loss and the additional pain this has caused her. We discovered a
bug and an issue with our machine learning models in the Hide Ad
Topics feature. The bug has been fixed, but we are continuing to
improve our machine learning models that detect and prevent these
ads,” a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider.

England Kerr said she’s yet to notice any change, but had been
told that the fix could take a while to be fully implemented. “It
hasn’t happened yet, but I imagine it’s a fairly complicated
fix,” she said.

England Kerr said that she was surprised but pleased to receive
the call. “I think that increasingly companies consolidate and
they get larger, people calling to apologise is very rare. I do
really appreciate that.”

But she added: “As much as I am appreciative of her call, I’d
rather there was an easier way to flag up problems.

“I’m not the only one this has happened to, I’ve shared my
experiences in other groups, lots of people responded the same
and that they’ve been affected by these ads as well. The more
data that online platforms that advertise to us have about us,
then the more potential there is for targeted ads to go terribly

England Kerr doesn’t have an immediate answer for how to make
sure Facebook responds more effectively to people who are being
hurt by microtargeted ads, but she believes “a lot more thought
needs to be put into the human side of what it means to be
advertised to online.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement Find your dream job