On last night’s Newsnight, Made.com’s Brent Hoberman and I debated what the real commodities being sold to the public are when (if) Facebook floats on the US stock market this week.

Short answer: us. And this is creepy, but an expected evolution of the trends that have been building in the advertising and marketing space for decades. The difference is that now the technology has advanced enough to take this trend and its outcomes to a new level: totally extreme personalisation.

We can say no to the creep, but the free things that we get from services like Facebook (or Google, or Twitter or Amazon etc etc etc) work for us: we are able to navigate the world wide web in a way that makes sense to us, in a way that we feel is relevant and valuable to us. Unlike Google – which purportedly provides relevance and value using a madness of crowds approach – Facebook and other social networks give us relevance and value based on a psychologically more personal system: the influences of our online social circles. And at the same time, we freely and willingly give the makers of these products a lot of personal information and so they can sell us to advertisers and profit from it. Profit from us.

As Martha Lane Fox, Brent’s co-founder at Lastminute.com, commented on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning, “At the moment, Facebook is a benign dictator.” What effect will the float have on Mark Zuckerberg’s business whims (like implementing the Newsfeed, for example)?

For the longer answer to the questions Jeremy Paxman posed to Brent & me last night, people in the UK can see the item for the next week on iPlayer from 35 minutes into the programme.

More on what Facebook’s IPO means for the company, Zuck & you from Wired UK.