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Facebook apologizes for showing baby product ads to woman who lost her child

The bereaved mother still saw the ads after sharing news of her loss on the site and changing her settings.

Facebook has apologized after a British woman who lost her child continued to see baby product ads after changing her advertising preference on the site.

Anna England-Kerr found that her feed "was filled with ads for baby things" despite using the social media site to share the news that her daughter had been stillborn and changing her settings to avoid such advertising, she wrote in an open letter to the company.

"Ad blockers were ineffective and no matter how many times I gave feedback that the baby ads were 'not relevant to me' or I clicked on ANY ad for ANYTHING else regardless of whether I was interested or not, it did little to change what I was advertised," she wrote.

She noted in an interview that the "onus should really be on Facebook to fix this" and that bereaved parents shouldn't have to opt out of social media sites to avoid it, Bloomberg reported.

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Facebook apologized to England-Kerr and said a bug and a problem with the machine learning models in its hide ad topics feature caused her to continue seeing the ads.

"We've spoken to Anna and expressed our deep sympathy for her loss and the additional pain this has caused her," a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"The bug has been fixed, but we are continuing to improve our machine-learning models that detect and prevent these ads."


Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook's vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, called England-Kerr to apologize.

Justin Tallis / AFP/Getty Images

England-Kerr noted in a Wednesday blog post that Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook's vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, called her to apologize for the ad problem and said she'd be informed when it was fixed.

She said companies using people's personal information to advertise online need to consider the impact it can have.

"It's important to ensure that when building advertising models, designers think of effective ways for people to say that they don't want to see certain topics," she told CNET in an emailed statement.

"It's not about not advertising to us, but they have an obligation to do so responsibly. I'm glad that Facebook has the 'hide ad topics' feature, but now we need it to work."

Facebook's use of personal information has come under scrutiny since it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a digital consultancy linked to the Trump presidential campaign, improperly accessed data on up to 87 million Facebook users.

It's also been investigating a massive security breach, revealed last month and tentatively blamed on spammers, which it believes compromised 29 million users' personal data.

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