Since the late 1990s, I have used aldaily.com as my homepage. It's a wonderfully curated collection of articles of political, literary, and academic interest. But just last week, the filter bubble caught me there, to a potentially ruinous degree.
I returned an email from my dissertation advisor, and when I relaunched my browser, I saw an ad for some scientific research at UNT, where I am working on that degree. OMG, I thought, UNT is really spending money on advertisitng (and I am a donor as well as a student), but given that aldaily is now under the auspices of the Chronicle of Higher Ed, it seemed an audacious move for what is essentially a normal school.
Well, I only realized my folly much later, when I saw the same ad, but where North Texas had been earlier, it read Vanderbilt University. Just before, I had been looking up directions to Nashville's Kidlit drink night, a stone's throw from the Vanderbilt campus. I have tried to replicate this, and I mostly end up with ads for Bryant in Smithfield, RI (yes, the one from the NPR ads).
I gave a keynote speech just last month warning of the dangers of the increasingly customized web experience, and here it bites me, and I am none the wiser. It didn't help that that the ad was green and white, UNT colors. But think about our students -- suddenly, they see ads from the school they were considering. How does that reinforce its primacy in the world of academe? It MUST appear to be the best school, given that it keeps appearing everywhere they go...if it gave me the warm fuzzies, how might they react?
And now we are all jumping on the Google+ bandwagon, giving marketers even more information about ourselves and our associations to better target their products and services. Scary stuff, be careful out there.