Perhaps you heard about the resort in Florida that partly collapsed this week when a sinkhole opened up underneath it? Did you also hear that the manager took pains to announce that they’re still open for business and guests with reservations (presumably both kinds) should “Come on down”? Seriously!
Fortunately, there were no injuries or deaths in the collapse, thanks at least in part to the actions of the security guard who ran through the building to wake people up and get them outside.
That just makes this particular matching of content to advertising on the Chicago Tribune’s website even more surreal than it might otherwise have been:
Presumably Google’s algorithms matched keywords such as “injured”, “evacuated”, and “Walt Disney” in determining that the web page was death-related*. One hopes that they’ll fine-tune things a bit.
* What, you hadn’t heard about Walt’s cryogenically-preserved corpse? Legend has it that Walt’s frozen body lies in state somewhere under Disneyland.
More to the point, though, one hopes that Ancestry.com will fine-tune their advertising a bit. I was thrilled at the idea that I could enter my own name and find out how and when I was going to die. Imagine my disappointment when I got to the site and found that they wanted me to input the year and location of my death!
Still, the site says that not all the information is required, so I went ahead and gave it a try. Apparently I’m going to be busy dying for quite a while.
“Casey Karp” is, it seems, a popular name. I entered my birth year and place of birth and they still found 141 matching death records. Nice!
That “View Records” button, of course, takes you to a sign-up page where you are encouraged to spend $19.99 per month after your two week trial membership. Note that you must provide payment information in order to create an account. Yup, gotta provide a credit card or PayPal information before you can use your free trial. But that’s OK. Look, they offer a 100% Guarantee that you won’t pay anything today:
No, I didn’t give them my credit card. I think I’ll be happier not knowing when those 141 deaths are going to find me. Especially given that “Casey” is a nickname; presumably those 141 deaths actually belong to someone else. My real name–including full middle name, which is known only to family, former employers, and the NSA–actually produced 232 matches. That’s more dying than I really want to do. Well, OK, one death is more than I really want, but I understand that, Walt aside, that is the quota.
I’ve stretched this joke about as far as it’ll go without breaking, so I’ll let it go (<snap!>). The ad just pushed one of my hot buttons (grossly oversimplifying something to the point of becoming misleading), and the actual implementation pushed another (concealed auto-billing). It doesn’t help that Ancestry.com is well-known for a confusing cancellation process or that even its apologists concede that they’re experts at concealing little details like total costs in the fine print. (My favorite example is in an opinion piece defending Ancestry.com. Check towards the end of the comments where the guy who wrote the piece says “I think one thing that people familiar with Ancestry.com learn to do is read the fine print because they end up getting burned on stuff like this.” Really? Apparently he considers that sort of deceptive practice acceptable because “they offer such a massive database of information.”)
Another one of John’s signs of the collapse of civil society, I suspect. It’s certainly one of mine.