Advertising: Is This Ad ‘Relevant to the Trump Voter?’ Advertisers Are Asking

“The notion was one tribe looking forward and the other tribe looking back,” Antonio Lucio, HP’s marketing chief, said in an interview. One group “derived the benefit of the Obama years in economic terms, in terms of opportunity — they’re all about technology, open systems, open society, diversity. The other one is actually like: ‘We need a reset. We’ve lost our way.’”

That second group, he said, is more “about family and community and faith and classical Americana imagery.”


Over eight weeks, the ad agency Y&R sent strategists to immerse themselves in four “middle America” cities. They posted images from their journey on Instagram.


The brand sought to find common ground between those “very different views of the world” through research in Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit and Richmond, Va., Mr. Lucio said.

“Normally in focus groups, you put like-minded people together and you get some insights,” Mr. Lucio said. “Here, you’re putting the reds and the blues together and you allow them to fight it out.”

Split into pairs or groups of four, people debated for the first half, then spent the second part finding topics that they agreed on. One of those areas was family, particularly extended family, which informed HP’s ad with the arguing sisters. The ad began running around the December holidays.

Y&R’s immersion project focused on understanding the family life and core values of people in Middle America, including their relationships with brands. These people were “frequently lumped into stereotypes or overlooked entirely by marketers,” the agency said when it announced the effort last year, adding that it hoped to emerge with insights that would improve how it communicated with such consumers.

The firm sent 14 strategists to four cities for two weeks each: Memphis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Phoenix. Moments from their journey, including visits to the rural outreaches of each city, were posted to Instagram.

A report on their findings noted that the Americans they had spoken with identified more with their communities than the nation at large and “preferred the comfort of fiery conviction to the lucidity of cold truth.” The report added that marketers should be conscious of a changing definition of success in the nation and the power of “an emotional appeal made with gumption” rather than, say, promoting a product’s superior qualities or rankings.

A spokeswoman for the agency said the research had been used in pitches to win new business.

As marketers have become more aware of “an urban-suburban-rural geographic divide,” it has had an effect on some of the settings and people who appear in advertisements, said Harris Diamond, chief executive of McCann Worldgroup. A recent Chevrolet commercial from the firm reflects that newfound awareness, he said. The ad features actual Chevy truck owners, several with Southern accents, describing the stories behind dents and scratches on their trucks.

“There has been a little bit of a reawakening to the fact that we probably went too far with respect towards pushing a sort of cosmopolitan, what some people viewed as an elitist, image,” Mr. Diamond said. “I think if you look at some of the campaigns that are out there, you will see more imagery that is more broadly associated with all of America rather than cosmopolitan America.”

As a result of its research, HP will now design ads with consumers’ political leaning in mind — the same way it considers age, ethnicity and income when formulating its marketing plans, the company said in a report last month. Just as the company might design certain marketing for a Latino audience, Mr. Lucio said, “we’re going to have to test first and foremost whether a piece of content actually works across the aisle and whether there’s a possibility of custom-made content.”

More of that work will be visible over time, he said.

“We’re about to launch a campaign for the premium line, and it is going to have a couple of digital videos,” Mr. Lucio said. “And we said we have to make one for the heartland.”

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Microsoft Tries a New Role: Moral Leader

But while the company’s power has diminished since a couple of decades ago, when it controlled computing through Windows, Microsoft remains an influential voice. On Monday, its market capitalization of $733 billion made it the third most valuable technology company, behind Apple and Amazon and ahead of Google parent company, Alphabet, and Facebook.

“The irony for Microsoft is that they lost in search, they lost in social networks and they lost in mobile, and as a consequence, they have avoided the recent pushback from governments and media,” said David Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “This has given Microsoft the freedom to take the high road as the ethical leader in technology.”

Since taking the reins at Microsoft in 2014, Mr. Nadella has brought a more sensitive style of leadership to the company than his two predecessors, Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. That shift has proved to be more suitable for Microsoft in this era.

Two decades ago, Microsoft was depicted as a bully that ran roughshod over competitors in a landmark antitrust suit brought by the federal government, followed by similar cases brought by the European Union and private companies. Mr. Smith was brought in to make peace in Microsoft’s antitrust battles, and Mr. Nadella was the company’s first chief executive to start in the job since those suits were settled.


“We need to ask ourselves not only what computers can do but what computers should do,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said on Monday at the company’s developer conference in Seattle.

Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

In a phone interview, Mr. Smith, who is also Microsoft’s chief legal officer, called its legal problems in past decades a “gut-wrenching experience” that had shaped Microsoft in its current form. “It made Microsoft a better and more responsible company,” he said.

This year, Microsoft published a book that outlined some of the harmful effects that could come from artificial intelligence, such as bias in job recruiting. It has litigated four lawsuits against the United States government over the past five years in efforts to defend customers’ privacy rights. One of them, a fight over law enforcement access to data stored in an overseas Microsoft data center, went to the Supreme Court, which dropped the case after Congress enacted a law that mooted it.

“Not only did Microsoft learn from its mistakes, Satya is a unique and caring individual,” said Tim O’Reilly, a tech industry publisher and conference organizer. “He understands deeply that Microsoft must help others to succeed.”

The closest analog among Mr. Nadella’s peers is Tim D. Cook, the chief executive of Apple, who has painted Apple as a staunch defender of its customers’ privacy. He has jabbed at Facebook and Google, both advertising-supported businesses that profit from the personal data they collect from their users, a contrast to Apple’s business model of selling devices.

Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, have defended their advertising businesses for allowing them to deliver services for free. They’ve promised to add more human moderators and invest in software tools that can screen out misinformation and other prohibited content.

Mr. Cook has not turned his ire toward Microsoft, which gets most of its revenue from software, hardware and cloud computing services. The company has investments in internet services that are supported in part by advertising, including its Bing search engine and LinkedIn, the social network for professionals it acquired in 2016.

Mr. Nadella has been more hesitant than Mr. Cook to publicly criticize other technology companies, turning to more subtle types of persuasion. A low-key leader, Mr. Nadella peppers his speeches and interviews with references to literature, warning that careless creators of technology could contribute to a dystopian world of George Orwell’s “1984” or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” His lieutenant, Mr. Smith, has become a ubiquitous ambassador for Microsoft on the big social issues facing technology in Washington, in Brussels and on the conference circuit.

Microsoft is still occasionally cast in the role of villain. A California man who sold recycled electronic waste recently pleaded guilty for creating thousands of unauthorized discs that helped people restore the Windows operating system on refurbished PCs. The recycler, who has been sentenced to 15 months in prison, has said Microsoft supported the case against him, which was brought by federal prosecutors, because he threatened part of its business. Microsoft published a long blog post that portrayed his actions unfavorably.

Still, the Microsoft of 2018 is a long way from the company that was once portrayed as a corporate predator.

“Microsoft lived through negativity that these companies are experiencing now, and it doesn’t want to go back to those days,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow with Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley campus.

Mr. Smith of Microsoft said the greater scrutiny on the tech sector would not always fall on the same companies.

“At any given moment, there may be one or two companies in the spotlight,” he said. “I don’t think one should assume the same one or two are always going to be in the spotlight or always on the defensive.”

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F.D.A. Cracks Down on Sales of E-Cigarettes to Minors


The agency said it had sent warnings to about 40 retailers of Juuls and other e-cigarettes, accusing them of selling the products to minors.

Nick Cote for The New York Times

The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it was cracking down on the sales of e-cigarettes to minors, especially the popular vaping Juul brand, and said it had issued warning letters to several dozen retailers and demanded that Juul Labs submit company documents with health and marketing information.

The agency said it had conducted an undercover operation this month, and issued the warnings to about 40 retailers, including gas stations and convenience stores, accusing them of violations for selling these products to minors.

In addition, the F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said the agency had sent Juul Labs a letter, seeking documents related to the company’s marketing tactics used to appeal to youths and on the health research that was conducted to sell the product.


The Juul products are popular especially because they are more easily hidden from parents and school authorities.

Nick Cote for The New York Times

“We don’t yet fully understand why these products are so popular among youth,” Dr. Gottlieb said in a statement. “But it’s imperative that we figure it out, and fast. These documents may help us get there.”

In an emailed statement Juul Labs said: “Juul Labs agrees with the F.D.A. that illegal sales of our product to minors is unacceptable. We already have in place programs to identify and act upon these violations at retail and online marketplaces, and we will have more aggressive plans to announce in the coming days. We are working with the F.D.A., lawmakers, parents and community leaders to combat underage use, and we will continue working with all interested parties to keep our product away from youth.”

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Facebook’s Current Status With Advertisers? It’s Complicated

The fallout has become unusually personal for Ahalogy, which in recent weeks has been contacted by almost a dozen frustrated Facebook users demanding to know what the company is and why it has their contact information.

The queries have come via email and social media as more people have learned just how much Facebook knows about them and are downloading their data and more closely scrutinizing sections on the social network like “Advertisers with your contact info.”

“Ahalogy Partners” sometimes shows up because the Cincinnati-based firm runs digital marketing campaigns for a range of advertisers and uses that account to buy targeted Facebook ads on their behalf.

One Twitter user confronted the company in late March after downloading her Facebook data, calling it “desperate” and saying, “I learned that Facebook gave you my data? Why?” She added the hashtag #DeleteMyData.

Mr. Gilbreath explained that Ahalogy, like many marketers, often buys data from outside firms for campaigns so that it can direct ads to certain groups of people — say, Walmart shoppers — but that the company doesn’t store that material and can’t see personal information like email addresses.

While marketers may be frustrated right now, few have actually left Facebook. The company is the second-biggest seller of digital ads with more than $40 billion in annual revenue. Last week, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, said at a conference that the company did not expect “major changes to our overall revenue and business model.”


More Facebook users are downloading their data and exploring their advertising preferences, paying special attention to advertisers who have their contact information.

Ms. Everson and her team, which works with agencies and the biggest global advertisers, have been in overdrive in recent weeks. She has sent frequent emails to agency leaders, held calls with Facebook’s council of top marketers and joined a discussion with the Association of National Advertisers. She noted in an interview that she “would much rather err on the side of over-communication right now.”

John Montgomery, executive vice president for brand safety at WPP’s GroupM, said that while he was dismayed by the initial “pocket of silence” from Facebook in the wake of the revelations, the company has since been candid. He said he appreciated the email updates sent by Ms. Everson every other day.

One of the points of concern seems to be apps companies made years ago at the behest of Facebook. The tech company recently declared that it would conduct a full investigation of apps that obtained access to a large amount of user information before Facebook changed its platform policies. Between 2010 and the change in 2014, Facebook encouraged brands from insurers to entertainment companies to make games and other apps for the site, according to one agency executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Ms. Everson said Facebook would look at all app developers, including major brands, that had access to large amounts of data and conduct audits if it sees “suspicious activity.”

“To marketers who have asked me about that, I have said if they have an app or had an app, that all app developers will be looked at,” Ms. Everson said. “They understand that and recognize our mission only works if people feel it’s safe to communicate online and share with others.”

Other advertisers have expressed alarm over Facebook’s plan to remove the so-called “partner categories” on its site. These categories enable advertisers to direct ads to people based on data collected by outside companies, including their purchasing habits in physical stores and profiles like “big-city moms.”

Facebook said that the change would improve user privacy. But it has also resulted in a perhaps counterintuitive lesson for marketers: several are devising new ways to build up their own customer data lists out of concern that they were too reliant on Facebook for such information.

One executive gave a hypothetical example of a jam brand that had been targeting ads on Facebook through shopping habits based on outside company data. That company might now set up a recipe site and create a newsletter to distribute great recipes every week. They could also make a loyalty program with peanut butter and jelly points, a children’s site and an iJam app, collecting customer data from each.

Mr. Montgomery said that he did not expect people to migrate from Facebook en masse.

“The major question we’ve asked together of ourselves and our clients is will this affect user engagement on the platform, and we haven’t seen any of that yet,” he said. “At the end of the day, what really counts is whether the users will value the utility of Facebook over the privacy missteps.”

If people stop using Facebook in significant numbers, it will test the patience of advertisers, who have had a fraught relationship with the social network. The main points of contention have been the amount of data that advertisers can access on the platform and issues around how ad performance is measured. Facebook is aiming to soothe them while it sorts through a very public problem.

“There may have been sellers in media that maybe got the benefit of doubt when something went wrong — when you get discretion, relationships matter, perceptions of the media brand matter,” said Brian Wieser, a media analyst at Pivotal Research. “But with Facebook, I feel like a common refrain I’ve heard is that user trends go down, that’s going to have ramifications.”

Yet Ms. Everson has received many public messages of support and praise for her leadership on Twitter and on her Facebook page from agency executives and chief marketing officers, including those at General Electric and Toys “R” Us.

In one of her emails to advertisers last month, which a recipient shared with The New York Times, Ms. Everson said it was important to remember that Facebook’s mission was unchanged. It was still the same company, she said, that is “bringing connectivity to remote areas of the world” and that “gives people a voice and enables the movements that are changing the world.” She concluded by saying, “Thank you so very much for your continued partnership.”

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Tech We’re Using: Following the Trail of Online Ads, Wherever It Leads

What do you like about these tools, and what could be better?

The online ad tracking services are helpful for the desktop and mobile web, but I haven’t yet found an effective way to sort through the many, many ads that flow through Facebook and Instagram or across various mobile apps.


The online tools that have helped Ms. Maheshwari monitor online advertising include Ghostery, Moat Pro and Pathmatics, but she has yet to find an effective way to track ads on Facebook, Instagram and mobile apps, she said.

Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica controversy, many privacy experts are pointing out that if something is free, you are the product. Do you agree with that?

This question makes me think of a headline from The Onion, “Exciting New App Allows Users to Be Pawns in 26-Year-Old C.E.O.’s Little Game.” I generally agree with the privacy experts, but don’t know if there are good ad-free alternatives for a lot of services that people can pay for. Maybe in the future?

How has tech changed advertising, and how much is the advertising industry looking to tech these days?

Tech has transformed advertising — there are so many more ways to target and reach people now than when the industry was dominated by TV, print, radio and event sponsorships.

There’s also so much more data being collected about our habits by an array of companies, from big tech platforms to agencies to the advertisers themselves. Huge portions of advertising dollars in the past few years have gone to the big tech giants that we read about all the time — specifically Google and Facebook and, to a lesser extent, companies like Snap. Lately, advertisers have said they’re spending more money on Amazon. So there are still more major changes afoot.

As for how advertisers are looking at tech — it can be a double-edged sword. The ability to follow consumers wherever they go online comes with the risk that brands could end up with their ads appearing on conspiracy and extremist sites or offensive YouTube videos. Platforms like Twitter have made it easy for brands to talk to consumers, but it’s also opened them up to new criticism, demands and potential boycotts.

Advertisers are also grappling with how to measure their ads in this new world. That’s a challenge throughout the industry. Think of all the ways that people watch TV shows now. I recently watched — or, more accurately, binged — NBC’s “The Good Place.” I watched the first season on Netflix, where there were no ads, then saw the first eight episodes of the second season through NBC’s Apple TV app, where there were lots of commercials. I watched the final few on Hulu, which might have had different ads. That type of behavior — especially since I was using my parents’ cable login for the NBC app — is a new kind of challenge for the people buying, selling and measuring ads.

What do you think of Google’s and Facebook’s power in the online ad industry?

It’s an enormous topic within the advertising industry, which generally refers to Google and Facebook as the “duopoly.” It’s pretty remarkable that two of the world’s most valuable companies make virtually all of their money from selling online ads and dominate more than half of the American digital ad market.

Their size and influence make it essential for people to really understand how the companies’ business models work and the types of information they’re sharing with them every day — and what makes them such powerful advertising machines.

Obviously, advertisers are drawn to Facebook and Google properties because people are spending lots of time there. But they’re also fast and easy to use and rely heavily on automation. Lately, we seem to be getting a crash course in how the tools that advertisers love can be misused, whether it’s in the political realm or through fraudulent or discriminatory ads. I’m interested to see how humans factor into solving some of these issues — for example, YouTube is implementing more human screening of videos to assuage advertisers’ fears about appearing on inappropriate content.

Outside work, what tech product do you love using?

It’s a tie between two. I recently installed a Chrome extension called HabitLab to help keep me from wasting time when I’m online.

And I love the Bose wireless speaker that my boyfriend gave me for Diwali. I use it to listen to podcasts and talk on the phone while cooking or cleaning. I love that the speaker gets me away from my phone, which can charge in the meantime, and that I can use it throughout my apartment. It would be nice if it just did the cooking for me, though.

What’s your advice for those who want to prevent their data from being tracked by advertisers?

It’s hard to prevent, but you can take some steps to limit it. Explore the privacy settings on your smartphone, including which apps have access to your location and microphone and whether you allow ad tracking. Delete apps that you don’t use anymore.

Some people like ad blockers, but they can be operating their own businesses that allow ads through from advertisers that pay them. You could also check the settings for internet-connected devices like your television, and turn off certain “smart” features that could be sharing your viewing habits with third parties. When you check out at a store, you can avoid giving your phone number, email address or ZIP code. Finally, you can see and delete your ad preferences on Facebook and those for Google, too.

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Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Virtual Currency Plans

The effort was overseen by Cambridge Analytica’s British chief executive, Alexander Nix, who was forced out of the company in March after he was caught on tape bragging about his company’s approach to political work in other countries, including the use of shell companies and strategies designed to entrap opponents. The Facebook data revelations and Mr. Nix’s comments appear to have put the virtual currency work, which was still in the early stages, on hold.

Initial coin offerings, or I.C.O.s, are a method of fund-raising in which companies sell their own virtual currencies. The tokens are generally structured like Bitcoin, using a so-called blockchain to record transactions. The coins are usually designed to be used as an internal payment method in software that the start-ups are building. Over the last year, companies have raised over $6 billion through I.C.O.s.

The New York Times Explains…

Coin offerings generally avoid the regulatory oversight that accompanies traditional fund-raising methods, opening the door for significant fraud. A number of coin offerings have been shut down by law enforcement, and there are several broad investigations of the industry by regulators around the world.

“There are only a handful of more controversial areas it could have expanded its business into,” said Tim Swanson, a consultant to companies in the industry, who was briefed on the Cambridge Analytica coin offering.

A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Cambridge Analytica began working with coin offerings in the middle of last year. The business was guided by Ms. Kaiser, an American who led the company’s business development and previously appeared at a press event with organizers of the “Brexit” campaign to get Britain out of the European Union.

Cambridge Analytica boasts that its “psychographic profiles” of voters and consumers allow for more persuasive and precisely targeted advertising. In marketing material sent to investors, the firm said Ms. Kaiser was “helping blockchain companies in using predictive modeling to target investors for token sales.”

Jill Carlson, a consultant who has worked with several blockchain companies, attended meetings where Cambridge Analytica pitched its services to virtual currency companies, including one that Mr. Nix attended.


Wan Kuok-koi, center, a Macau gangster, after his release from prison in 2012. Documents have listed Mr. Wan as a supporter of a Dragon Coin, a digital token promoted by Cambridge Analytica.

Laurent Fievet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Carlson said the Cambridge Analytica employees had bragged about their success in helping get President Trump elected and their ability to carefully target advertising campaigns using data from social networks like Facebook.

She also remembers they spoke about an array of potential campaigns. The most unusual idea involved sending virtual currencies to people in far-flung regions of Mexico. The payments would give people incentive to fill out surveys and get data that could then be used to help design campaigns for Mexican political candidates.

Ms. Carlson said the pitch was contrary to the ideas of openness and transparency that drew her to virtual currency projects like Bitcoin.

“The way that Cambridge Analytica was talking about it, they were viewing it as a means of being able to basically inflict government control and private corporate control over individuals, which just takes the whole initial premise of this technology and turns it on its head in this very dystopian way,” she said.

Cambridge Analytica did win over some clients. Last summer, Ms. Kaiser’s team began working with Dragon Coin, a new virtual currency that was designed to be used by gamblers. The coin was supposed to make it easier for people to get their money to casinos in Macau, an island that is technically a part of China with some independent political structures.

Cambridge Analytica had little public role in promoting Dragon Coin. But behind the scenes the company emailed potential partners and investors and arranged for some of them to take all-expenses-paid trips to a glitzy Dragon Coin event in Macau.


Brittany Kaiser, who guided Cambridge Analytica’s work with initial coin offerings, has been critical of the company since leaving it in February.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The South China Morning Post published a photo from the event showing Wan Kuok-koi in attendance. Mr. Wan is known as Broken Tooth Koi from his days as the leader of the famous 14K gang in Macau. He was released from prison in 2012 after serving a 14-year term.

The founder of Dragon Coin, Chris Ahmad, told Business Insider at the time that Mr. Wan “is not involved in Dragon, and he is not financing Dragon in any way.”

But documents sent in September to potential investors by Dragon Coin’s co-founder Paul Moynan listed Mr. Wan as the sponsor of the initial coin offering and included his picture. Ms. Kaiser was included in the email. A separate Dragon Coin document that Mr. Moynan sent out at the same time listed Mr. Wan as one of a few high-profile supporters of the project.

When reached recently, Mr. Moynan initially said that his email address had been hacked and that he did not recognize the documents. He later said the documents were a “hypothetical wish list” of a “junior staff” member.

“We will be conducting an internal investigation, as unfinished draft documents would never have been indicative of actual agreed partnerships,” he said.

Ms. Kaiser said that her work on the Dragon Coin event in Macau had been done in a personal capacity, and that the Dragon Coin team had told her that Mr. Wan was not involved with the project.


The Manhattan location of Cambridge Analytica, a British company. Its virtual currency work, which was still in the early stages, now appears to be on hold.

Joshua Bright

Dragon Coin claimed it raised over $300 million from investors last fall. That total has been hard to verify. But like many coin offerings, Dragon Coin has failed to live up to its promises.

The document sent to investors in September said Dragon Coin had secured a partnership with Visa to release a debit card that would work on the Visa network. A spokeswoman for Visa said that there was no partnership and that no Dragon card had been approved, as is necessary for a card to be issued.

The documents last summer also said the Dragon app, which would let investors use its virtual coin, would be available in September. When that didn’t happen, the company promised the app in January — but it still has not appeared. In the meantime, the company has spent its money sponsoring a Formula E car racing team and a team climbing Mount Everest.

The setbacks did not stop Cambridge Analytica from plunging further into the virtual currency realm. The company’s New York office continued reaching out to potential investors and partners, emails show. And in January, Ms. Kaiser hosted a side conference dedicated to blockchain projects, known as CryptoHQ, at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. Mr. Nix spoke on a panel at the event.

He said that the technology would be helpful in solving the very problems that Cambridge Analytica has since become the emblem of — the abuse of online personal data.

“We’re going to see a new type of economy emerging where people can start to take ownership of their data and monetize on their data,” Mr. Nix said, according to a tweet from the CryptoHQ account. “And that is only possible through the blockchain.”

The virtual currency that Cambridge Analytica was designing was aimed at exactly this problem, and would have also helped the company raise money from investors.

The company wrote a document describing the technical specifications of the coin, Ms. Kaiser said. Her account was confirmed by another person who worked on the project and agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. The work was overseen by Alexander Tayler, the firm’s chief data scientist and briefly the interim chief executive after Mr. Nix stepped down.

Ms. Kaiser left Cambridge Analytica in February and has been sharply critical of the company since then. As far as she knows, the coin offering has not moved forward. But she is still working on similar concepts at her new consulting firm, Bueno Capital.

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Mind: Antidepressants and Withdrawal: Readers Tell Their Stories

Readers in my age group and older (I’m 58) often came of age in an era in which depression was considered somehow a lapse in character. These readers typically reported having started on Prozac or one of its early competitors — Paxil, Zoloft — very often after a major setback like divorce, or the loss of a job, spouse or child.

“My G.P. put me on Zoloft 28 years ago to deal with my husband’s cancer diagnosis,” wrote Carole Wilson, 74, of Alburnett, Iowa. Her husband has since died. “I have cut down from 200 milligrams to 100, but when I go lower I get horrible side effects, like nausea, jumpiness, crying a lot which I never do. I’m nearly 75; at this point I will continue because I cannot go through the withdrawal.”

James Midkiff, 75, of Vienna, W.V., wrote: “I was sole caretaker for my dying wife and was a law enforcement officer and under a great deal of stress.” Mr. Midkiff said he tapered off Lexapro gradually, about a month ago, “but I am having withdrawal symptoms of shaking, panic attacks, flulike symptoms, nausea, fatigue, night sweats, tingling and numbness in the arms and legs. I am determined to get off antidepressant drugs; however it is disheartening to note that other folks are still having withdrawal symptoms after a year.”

Hundreds of others, in their 60s and 70s, told us similar stories about starting a prescription in the wake of terrible loss. The drugs helped ease the emotional turmoil initially, many said.

Their reasons for wanting to stop taking them were rooted in part in the understanding that antidepressants were supposed to be a short-term solution, a bridge over troubled waters. But by the mid-1990s, drug makers had convinced government regulators that when taken long-term, the medications sharply reduced the risk of relapse in people with chronic, recurrent depression.

Thus began the era of indefinite or open-ended prescribing, and not just for the most severe cases of depression. The change in practice roughly coincided with the promotion of the “chemical imbalance” theory of depression: Marketers and some researchers implied that antidepressants corrected deficits in brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter.

In truth, the theory has scant basis. No one knows the underlying biology of depression or any mood disorder. But that shift — along with a change in federal regulations, in 1997, allowing drug makers to advertise directly to consumers — helped undermine the stigma associated with depression and mood disorders generally.

Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder came out of the closet, if gingerly, and the generation that came of age during this time — people now in their 40s, give or take — did so in a culture that no longer automatically presumed that depression was a character flaw.

The condition had some biological basis, it was felt, and antidepressants became a vastly popular option. Everyone knew someone taking them. Long-term prescription rates surged.


Robin Hempel began taking an antidepressant on the advice of her gynecologist. “Had I been told the risks of trying to come off this drug, I never would have started it,” she said.

Cheryl Senter for The New York Times

In their responses to us, many readers in this age group were much more likely than older readers to cite specific psychiatric diagnoses: social anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, as well as depression. And their decisions to taper off were less tied to the presumption that the drugs are short-term bridges; most cited practical concerns like lingering side effects (sexual dysfunction is common, as is weight gain), pregnancy or the passing of postpartum despair.

“When I became pregnant I chose to stop taking Effexor because I was uncomfortable using it during pregnancy,” wrote Katie Slattery, 39, of Orlando, Fla. “When I stopped cold turkey, I felt extremely unwell and had to go back on and wean off slowly. I would break open my pill capsules and reduce my dose by one milligram at a time every couple of days. It was a lengthier process, but it prevented the dizziness, headache and fogginess I felt when I originally stopped the medication.”

Amy Cannon, 42, of Philadelphia wrote: “I started taking Zoloft after experiencing moderate postpartum depression, and after about a year I felt my symptoms weren’t as severe.” But she had “brain zaps” — electric-shock sensations in her head — and mood swings after trying to quit cold turkey, so she resumed taking the drug.

“Eventually I was able to wean down slowly without severe consequences, but it took six months and was still really unpleasant.” Nonetheless, she said that she was very grateful that the drugs were available when she needed them.

Women taking antidepressants who become pregnant, or are planning to, often prefer not to expose the developing fetus to any prescriptions. The evidence that exposure in utero causes problems for a child is fairly weak.

And untreated depression poses risks indeed, both before birth and after, when the child needs an energetic, vigilant caregiver.

As the stigma associated with mood disorders faded, so too did the social barriers to taking a daily prescription. By 2000, when doctors began prescribing antidepressants to children, prevailing views were vastly different from those of the first Prozac generation.

Nearly 1,000 young people in their 20s or younger responded the The Times’s invitation. They did not come of age during the rise of long-term use — their parents did, and often it was their parents who decided the medications could help them.

Many told us they were too young to know what the drugs were at the time, and didn’t learn until much later. As they enter high school and college, their understanding of the prescription culture is far different from that of generations before.

For one thing, many of their friends have been on antidepressants or other psychiatric medications for long periods. “I live in a college house of six girls, two of whom are on antidepressants,” wrote Julian O., 21, of Seattle.

“When brought up in conversation, the medications are discussed with vanity, as if they are veterans trying out the newest medication prescribed to them.”

Emma Dreyfus, 28, of Boston, said the “one mistake her parents had made” was putting her on Paxil at age 10 to treat anxiety. She weaned herself off slowly at age 23.

“I don’t blame them, but I wish we’d all understood the long-term effects.” She said she is starting graduate work in the fall, in social work, to help others facing similar challenges.

Others in this youngest cohort wondered about the effect of the medications on brain development; the drugs cause biological adjustments in the brain, but so do persistent mood problems.

For now, no one has good answers for them. The drugs are a brand new cultural development, historically speaking, and their diffuse biological effects — especially in the developing brain — are largely unknown.

Whatever their ages, all of us are part of Generation Rx — a huge, uncontrolled experiment with little precedent and few guideposts.

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Tech Fix: I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes.

“They don’t delete anything, and that’s a general policy,” said Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of DuckDuckGo, which offers internet privacy tools. He added that data was kept around to eventually help brands serve targeted ads.

Beth Gautier, a Facebook spokeswoman, put it this way: “When you delete something, we remove it so it’s not visible or accessible on Facebook.” She added: “You can also delete your account whenever you want. It may take up to 90 days to delete all backups of data on our servers.”

Digging through your Facebook files is an exercise I highly recommend if you care about how your personal information is stored and used. Here’s what I learned.


How Facebook Lets Brands and Politicians Target You

A history of the steps the company took to become an advertising giant.

OPEN Graphic

Facebook Retains More Data Than We Think

When you download a copy of your Facebook data, you will see a folder containing multiple subfolders and files. The most important one is the “index” file, which is essentially a raw data set of your Facebook account, where you can click through your profile, friends list, timeline and messages, among other features.

One surprising part of my index file was a section called Contact Info. This contained the 764 names and phone numbers of everyone in my iPhone’s address book. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that Facebook had stored my entire phone book because I had uploaded it when setting up Facebook’s messaging app, Messenger.

This was unsettling. I had hoped Messenger would use my contacts list to find others who were also using the app so that I could connect with them easily — and hold on to the relevant contact information only for the people who were on Messenger. Yet Facebook kept the entire list, including the phone numbers for my car mechanic, my apartment door buzzer and a pizzeria.

This felt unnecessary, though Facebook holds on to your phone book partly to keep it synchronized with your contacts list on Messenger and to help find people who newly sign up for the messaging service. I opted to turn off synchronizing and deleted all my phone book entries.

My Facebook data also revealed how little the social network forgets. For instance, in addition to recording the exact date I signed up for Facebook in 2004, there was a record of when I deactivated Facebook in October 2010, only to reactivate it four days later — something I barely remember doing.

Facebook also kept a history of each time I opened Facebook over the last two years, including which device and web browser I used. On some days, it even logged my locations, like when I was at a hospital two years ago or when I visited Tokyo last year.

Facebook keeps a log of this data as a security measure to flag suspicious logins from unknown devices or locations, similar to how banks send a fraud alert when your credit card number is used in a suspicious location. This practice seemed reasonable, so I didn’t try to purge this information.

But what bothered me was the data that I had explicitly deleted but that lingered in plain sight. On my friends list, Facebook had a record of “Removed Friends,” a dossier of the 112 people I had removed along with the date I clicked the “Unfriend” button. Why should Facebook remember the people I’ve cut off from my life?

Facebook’s explanation was dissatisfying. The company said it might use my list of deleted friends so that those people did not appear in my feed with the feature “On This Day,” which resurfaces memories from years past to help people reminisce. I’d rather have the option to delete the list of deleted friends for good.


Your Facebook account keeps a record not only of ads you have clicked on, but also of advertisers that have your contact information, which can also be viewed in your archive.

The Ad Industry Has Eyes Everywhere

What Facebook retained about me isn’t remotely as creepy as the sheer number of advertisers that have my information in their databases. I found this out when I clicked on the Ads section in my Facebook file, which loaded a history of the dozen ads I had clicked on while browsing the social network.

Lower down, there was a section titled “Advertisers with your contact info,” followed by a list of roughly 500 brands, the overwhelming majority of which I had never interacted with. Some brands sounded obscure and sketchy — one was called “Microphone Check,” which turned out to be a radio show. Other brands were more familiar, like Victoria’s Secret Pink, Good Eggs or AARP.

Facebook said unfamiliar advertisers might appear on the list because they might have obtained my contact information from elsewhere, compiled it into a list of people they wanted to target and uploaded that list into Facebook. Brands can upload their customer lists into a tool called Custom Audiences, which helps them find those same people’s Facebook profiles to serve them ads.

Brands can obtain your information in many different ways. Those include:

■ Buying information from a data provider like Acxiom, which has amassed one of the world’s largest commercial databases on consumers. Brands can buy different types of customer data sets from a provider, like contact information for people who belong to a certain demographic, and take that information to Facebook to serve targeted ads, said Michael Priem, chief executive of Modern Impact, an advertising firm in Minneapolis.

Last month, Facebook announced that it was limiting its practice of allowing advertisers to target ads using information from third-party data brokers like Acxiom.

■ Using tracking technologies like web cookies and invisible pixels that load in your web browser to collect information about your browsing activities. There are many different trackers on the web, and Facebook offers 10 different trackers to help brands harvest your information, according to Ghostery, which offers privacy tools that block ads and trackers. The advertisers can take some pieces of data that they have collected with trackers and upload them into the Custom Audiences tool to serve ads to you on Facebook.

■ Getting your information in simpler ways, too. Someone you shared information with could share it with another entity. Your credit card loyalty program, for example, could share your information with a hotel chain, and that hotel chain could serve you ads on Facebook.

The upshot? Even a Facebook lurker, like myself, who has barely clicked on any digital ads can have personal information exposed to an enormous number of advertisers. This was not entirely surprising, but seeing the list of unfamiliar brands with my contact information in my Facebook file was a dose of reality.

I tried to contact some of these advertisers, like Very Important Puppets, a toymaker, to ask them about what they did with my data. They did not respond.

What About Google?

Let’s be clear: Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what information tech companies have collected on me.

Knowing this, I also downloaded copies of my Google data with a tool called Google Takeout. The data sets were exponentially larger than my Facebook data. For my personal email account alone, Google’s archive of my data measured eight gigabytes, enough to hold about 2,000 hours of music. By comparison, my Facebook data was about 650 megabytes, the equivalent of about 160 hours of music.

Here was the biggest surprise in what Google collected on me: In a folder labeled Ads, Google kept a history of many news articles I had read, like a Newsweek story about Apple employees walking into glass walls and a New York Times story about the editor of our Modern Love column. I didn’t click on ads for either of these stories, but the search giant logged them because the sites had loaded ads served by Google.

In another folder, labeled Android, Google had a record of apps I had opened on an Android phone since 2015, along with the date and time. This felt like an extraordinary level of detail.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On a brighter note, I downloaded an archive of my LinkedIn data. The data set was less than half a megabyte and contained exactly what I had expected: spreadsheets of my LinkedIn contacts and information I had added to my profile.

Yet that offered little solace. Be warned: Once you see the vast amount of data that has been collected about you, you won’t be able to unsee it.

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Tech Tip: Setting Options for Ad Blockers

Q. I installed ad-blocking software on my computer, but I still see advertisements on some pages, even though the site did not ask me to turn off the blocker. Why is this?

A. Even when you have the software enabled, browser utilities like AdBlock or AdBlock Plus may still display less-intrusive advertisements from companies that have been approved by the independent Acceptable Ads Committee. The Acceptable Ads initiative was started by AdBlock Plus, which makes money by allowing the ads through its filters.

The initiative attempts to balance the needs of web surfers who do not want to be pelted with aggressive online ads and the needs of websites that rely on advertising revenue to support their content. (Google recently began to filter intrusive ads in its Chrome browser in a similar manner.)

“Acceptable” ads include those that lack animation and do not jam themselves into the middle of the reader’s experience on the site. Even if the ad-blocker program is set to allow nonintrusive ads by default, you can disable the feature in the program’s settings. However, if you use a site frequently and find it worthwhile, you may want to consider allowing its advertising through your filter by allowing acceptable ads or by adding the site to the ad-blocking program’s white list.


If you are seeing some web ads even with ad-blocking software installed, the program may be set to let certain unobtrusive advertisements get through.

The New York Times

To “white-list” a site basically means to make an exception for it in your ad-blocking program to allow advertising to appear. While advertising on some web pages can be distracting, excessive and sometimes even laden with malware, most sites run ads because they need the money to sustain themselves.

Some sites have put in ad-blocker detection tools and will stop your browser from loading the page you want to see unless you white-list the site. Some sites ask you to white-list them in exchange for displaying a minimal amount of advertising. If you need to white-list the site you are trying to visit, click the ad-blocker icon in the browser’s tool bar and look for the option to pause or disable the current filtering. The program’s tool-bar menu might have a list of sites you have white-listed, along with controls for fine-tuning your ad filters.

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‘Ready Player One’ Overcomes Challenges to Dominate Box Office

Although Mr. Spielberg has found box office success in recent years with historical dramas like “The Post” and “Bridge of Spies,” his would-be crowd-pleasers, including the motion-capture fantasies “The BFG” and “The Adventures of Tintin,” have been ticket-selling disappointments. Even “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was widely viewed as a misfire; longtime fans loathed the story, leaving that whip-cracking franchise on wobbly footing.

In contrast, “Ready Player One” drew the most positive audience response for any fantasy or science-fiction movie directed by Mr. Spielberg since “Minority Report” in 2005, according to Rotten Tomatoes, which boils down reviews from critics and ticket buyers into “fresh” or “rotten” scores. Critics also gave “Ready Player One” high marks, although some were annoyed by the source material’s reliance on 1980s pop culture.

‘Ready Player One’ Is a Vintage Pop Bonanza

Here’s a rundown of some of the bigger references you need to know before watching Steven Spielberg’s film.

Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst at comScore, noted that ticket-buyer surveys conducted by PostTrak, a service operated by comScore and Screen Engine, showed “really, really high marks” for “Ready Player One” from teenagers and people in their late thirties. “This film has momentum,” he said.

“Ready Player One,” rated PG-13 and produced by a team that included Donald De Line, Kristie Macosko Krieger and Bruce Berman, was the first movie directed by Mr. Spielberg to arrive in the less-competitive spring since “The Sugarland Express” in 1974. Warner had initially scheduled “Ready Player One” for release in December but moved it to a safer spot after Disney unexpectedly dropped “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on the same winter date.

Mr. Spielberg’s godlike status in Hollywood was cemented long ago. He is, perhaps, the only director (or star) whose career is no longer impacted by ticket sales — good, bad, mediocre. But the robust response to “Ready Player One” is meaningful for him nonetheless. If ticket sales continue to hold up in the weeks ahead — and they should, given school spring breaks — Mr. Spielberg will have given Warner Bros. what it wants most: a new franchise.

Mr. Cline is notably working on a sequel to his novel.

For the weekend in North America, “Tyler Perry’s Acrimony” (Lionsgate) was second, collecting $17 million, a sturdy total for one of Mr. Perry’s movies that does not feature Madea, his gunslinging granny. “Acrimony,” a thriller starring Taraji P. Henson, cost less than $15 million to make.

Third place went to “Black Panther” (Disney), which took in about $11.3 million, for a seven-week domestic total of $650.7 million. “Black Panther” has taken in $1.27 billion worldwide.

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