imageFacebook has added a feature to its service called 'Instant Personalization'. What is it? It's a method for partner websites to automatically harvest data about you and your friends. Facebook claims it's a way for websites like Bing, TripAdvisor, Clicker, Rotten Tomatoes, Docs, Pandora, Yelp, and Scribd to create a richer online experience. What's really going on is something much more sinister. It's Facebook building potential revenue streams - selling your information, data about you, your friends, your habits and interests.

This setting is enabled by default and it can be turned off here: Go to Account>Privacy Settings>Applications and Websites>Instant Personalization>at bottom of page Edit Settings, and un-check "Enable"

In my view, if you want to share information about yourself, you're more than welcome to. It's your right. However, when features like 'Instant Personalization' are introduced quietly and turned on by default, it should raise eyebrows. The problem is that it's not causing a big enough stir because too many people don't understand the implications of their data being online, or in the cloud.

It's another example of how Facebook continues to erode people's privacy. By automatically sharing your data, Facebook is attempting to lower expectations of what privacy means to the average person. Considering there's more than half a billion users in Facebook's database, my bet is that this strategy is working.

There's a lot of talk about Facebook going public in the near future. Unfortunately for everyone who uses it, the only way Facebook will ever generate serious revenue is to eliminate privacy completely. Facebook's true value as a business is not a measure of how much online ad real-estate and traffic it creates. The real money is in the data it collects and shares with partners. Facebook can make an order of magnitude more revenue by selling user data, habits and interests to marketers rather than classic advertising on its web pages.

Consider what happens in a future scenario where Facebook might be sold. What about if by some strange turn of events, it goes under? What happens to your data? Also consider that even if you delete a Facebook account, your data is not destroyed - it's remains completely intact within Facebook's databases. So what happens to your data in the future as Facebook grows, changes or goes away?

There's an old saying in sales and marketing: "If a service is free, you're the product being sold."

Everyone would do well to remember that. Once data about you, your personality, your friends, your interests, etc exists, it's potentially for sale. One act of government can force any company to hand over user data and there's little stopping any company from selling everything it knows about you. Privacy concerns are relevant today, but the real potential is for abuse in the future - abuses that are difficult to predict and sometimes even more difficult to detect.

I fear that by the time people realize how much of their data is being shared and sold, the concept of privacy will have been eroded so much that it won't matter.

Facebook is indeed underhanded in its practice and policy regarding the privacy of your data. They've done things like this over and over again. It's not going to stop either. See: 'Facebook sent some user data to advertisers', '2010, the year that privacy died?' and 'Top 5 Privacy Violations of 2010'

I hope more people stop and consider the implications of Facebook destroying the notion of online privacy.

Chris Marriott