Flickr Bug Makes Private Pics Public
February 13, 2013

Flickr Bug Makes Private Pics Public

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

One could perhaps make the argument any picture a photographer or subject doesn´t want to be made public shouldn´t be put anywhere on the Internet. Yet for a variety of reasons, people do want to share their photos online without fear of them becoming visible to the outside world.

Yesterday, a number Flickr users saw their worst fears become reality when they received an email from the photo-sharing website´s president telling them their photos had been publicly viewable online for 20 days.

According to the Yahoo-owned company, these photos did not show up in a Google or Flickr search but were visible if one had a direct link to the images. Although Flickr did not announce this bug publicly or in a blog post, opting instead to handle it quietly through email, these emails have since been shared over the Internet.

“While performing routine site maintenance, we identified a software bug that may have changed the view setting on some of your photos from non-public (i.e., private or viewable only by family and friends, to public,” read an email sent to Flickr user and writer for MarketingLand Barry Schwartz.

“Affected photos were visible on Flickr between January 18 and February 7, 2013. The affected photos were barred from appearing in any search results and they were limited to photos you´ve uploaded between April and December of 2012. Overall, this issue impacted only a small percentage of photos.”

In order to further protect their users´ images, Flickr has changed some of the privacy settings for private photos. Now, when a user marks an image as private, they break all previous links and embeds of that image. In other words, when a photo is set to private, it is essentially cut off from the rest of the Internet, viewable only to those whom the user allows.

As such, Flickr recommends revisiting all those private snaps to ensure the intended viewers are still able to access these images. By building in a system in which making photos private breaks all links, Flickr has done more than protect their users´ photos — they´ve also made a number of them quite upset.

On the Flickr Help Forums, users are complaining to one another about having to go back through their photos (some have massive libraries of photos) to check their privacy settings. “I'm losing all the faves and everything that I have ever linked anywhere. Also, this then means that I have lost some of the things that I have favourited myself? Sheesh. Quite upsetting. I'm not paying for this kinds of stuff,” wrote forum user Veterok.

Other users in the forum are complaining their photos are also being switched from public to private with no explanation. What´s worse, these users won´t know the status of their pictures unless they check them directly or run into an issue where a once visible picture suddenly disappears.

“We´re deeply sorry this happened,” writes Brett Wayn, Flickr´s president in his email to affected users. “As an avid Flickr user, I´m personally committed to ensuring your memories are safe. Our team has worked hard to earn your trust, and we take it very seriously. We´ve put in place a number of additional measures to prevent this from happening again.”

Any Flickr user concerned their private photos were affected due to this bug have been asked to visit this help site after they´ve logged in.