If nothing else, Facebook is demonstrating it learned a lesson from the Beacon situation.  Launched in 2007, Facebook Beacon became a magnet of criticism in part because the company sprung the program–which involved sharing user data with third parties–on unaware consumers.  So this time it's asking what consumers think before loosening the Facebook Privacy Policy.  And how did consumers respond?  The mystery isn't what consumers said but what Facebook will do with all the feedback it received. 

In a post to the Facebook blog, Michael Richter, Facebook's Deputy General Counsel, shared some of the proposed policy changes and noted, "We hope you'll take the time to review all of the changes we're proposing and share your comments."  Most of these changes seem uncontroversial, but then there's this: 

In the proposed privacy policy, we've also explained the possibility of working with some partner websites that we pre-approve to offer a more personalized experience at the moment you visit the site. In such instances, we would only introduce this feature with a small, select group of partners and we would also offer new controls. 

This functionality, which is part of Facebook Platform, is quite similar to the way Beacon worked, only this time Facebook is asking for feedback rather than simply implementing changes.  The specifics contained within the proposed privacy policy state (in part and with my comments): 

In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook). <Augie's Note: This means if you're logged into Facebook and visit a site Facebook has pre-approved, some your data will be shared by Facebook.>  You can also remove any pre-approved website or application you have visited here [add link], or block all pre-approved websites and applications from getting your General Information when you visit them here [add link].  <Augie's Note:  This means the program is opt-out rather than opt-in–data will be transmitted without your express approval.>

It's possible and even likely that these features could be quite useful to consumers, but in the absence of details, examples, or even a list of potential partners, the reaction has been substantial and uniform: The combination of data sharing and opt-out is getting a thumbs down.  

As of my writing of this blog post, 956 comments have been posted to the Facebook blog.  I cannot view all 956, but the dozens that are accessible range from concerned ("Explicit OPT-IN is the only acceptable option" and "I need to be able to explicitly give MY permission to any additional web sites asking for my information") to the outraged ("screw you facebook" and "Facebook, are you trying to suck?").  (Some other comments were even more unprintable.)  

I believe I am safe in surmising that 99% of the comments received are negative toward the proposed change.  The questions is: Where does this leave Facebook?  It's asked; it's received input; how will Facebook reflect this input in its privacy policy changes? 

On the one hand, it could unilaterally make the proposed change and let the cards fall where they may.  Many of the comments to Facebook's blog threaten departure if these changes are implemented, but will consumers give up their connections, photos, and social games so easily?  And given the strong reaction to the proposed change, would the company find partners willing to be early adopters for this new Platform functionality if Facebook ignores the feedback and proceeds as planned?

Or, Facebook could change their privacy policy so that Platform would only work on third-party sites with explicit opt-in (which is, essentially, no change from today with Facebook Connect).  This would likely reduce participation and decrease Platform's appeal to partners.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook deals with the feedback it is receiving.  The company helped create a world of greater transparency and consumer empowerment;  now it has to live in that world.