I tried to keep my unborn child secret from Facebook and Google

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Having a child is a deeply personal experience. The internet aggressively turns it into anything but

The internet hates secrets. More than that, it despises them. And so, in February of last year, my partner and I resolved to try and keep the existence of our unborn child a secret from the online economy’s data-hungry gaze. Our reasons were simple: first, we wanted our child, when it was good and ready, to establish its own online identity; second, we didn’t want to be stalked around the internet by adverts for breast pumps and baby carriers; finally, and most pertinently, we wanted some semblance of control over something that felt deeply personal.

Opting out of tracking and targeting, it turns out, isn’t an option. There is no such thing as a purely transactional transaction. Every purchase I make and every website I visit is recorded, tracked and indelibly tagged to scores of profiles sold by data brokers I’ve never heard of to companies I’ve never heard of in an attempt to persuade me to spend £150 on a Chicco Next 2 Me Bedside Crib. Spoiler: I did.

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How to Tell a Secret in the Digital Age

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As a matter of practice, journalists at The Times have long used digital security measures — encrypted communications and storage — when handling sensitive information. But late last year, Mr. Dance, the deputy investigations editor, teamed up with Runa Sandvik, the director of information security, to gather a set of tools for readers to anonymously submit information that might be of journalistic interest to The Times.

The tools — WhatsApp, Signal, SecureDrop and encrypted email — are listed on nytimes.com on a centralized tips page, which outlines each method’s strengths and vulnerabilities. From there, users can download the appropriate software and use it to transmit their tips to The Times.

The effect on the newsroom was immediate. “We received useful information within 24 hours of launching,” Ms. Sandvik said, referring to the project’s Dec. 15 launch date. Since then, the tips have been arriving at a rate of 50 to 100 per day. They range from single-sentence suggestions to databases with hundreds of thousands of records.