February 22, 2007 1:11 PM PST

Flickr shows a little too much skin

Alida Saxon knew something was wrong last weekend when she saw that a thumbnail image on her blog that gets automatically fed from her Flickr page wasn't one of her own photos.

She clicked on the link for the image--a shot of a swimming pool--and was taken to her Flickr page, where she noticed that the pool image had mysteriously replaced one of her own shots.

"I thought my (Flickr) account had been hacked and some joker was swapping out images," the Springfield, Mass.-based artist wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com. She went straight to the Flickr Help Forum and discovered that many other users were encountering the same problem of random photos replacing their photos on Flickr pages. Some of those new images, however, weren't as innocent as a swimming pool scene.

"You need to take the site offline--there is all kinds of freaking porn in my photostream now," Flickr user Daniel J. Weiss wrote in a posting to the forum, noting that family members, including children, look at his page. "I am sure there are many others in the same boat," he wrote. "This sucks."

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr, said the company was taking the matter seriously and had completely resolved it after taking the site offline for several hours. "We are committed to preventing its reoccurrence or any similar problems in the future," he said in an e-mail.

Still, the issue, which Butterfield said was caused by server problems and affected an unknown number of Flickr users Saturday morning and sporadically on Monday, has some consumers and watchdog groups calling for more than just an apology.

One Flickr user, for example, suggested that the company might want to keep photos designated as "private," which ostensibly would include adult content, on a separate cache server from the public photos to avoid future mix-ups. Flickr users can keep their photos public, restrict access to a limited number of other Flickr users, or keep them private for only the Flickr user's viewing.

Google's Picasa Web Albums service lets people mark their albums as public or "unlisted," and Webshots, which is owned by CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, also allows people to keep photos public or private, but disallows "adult content."

"I was concerned because I don't want any of my visitors coming through and finding pictures of somebody's crotch, quite frankly," Saxon said. "And there is some particularly pornographic photography on Flickr. It should be stored in a different area on Flickr."

"There is some particularly pornographic photography on Flickr. It should be stored in a different area on Flickr."
--Alida Saxon, Flickr user

The hiccup can be traced to servers that store copies of Flickr photos "going berserk and instead of returning the correct image file when a particular photo was being requested, it just returning (sic) some random image that happened to be in the cache," according to the official Flickr blog.

In other words, some Flickr user pages suddenly sported random photos that didn't belong and that would change to other random unwelcome pictures when the page was refreshed, Flickr engineer Eric Costello wrote in the blog, saying, "We shamefacedly apologize for the inconvenience and the scare."

Flickr's problem is a reminder that privacy concerns are still an issue for Web 2.0 companies, and that users want to control the dissemination of their content, even if they are the ones posting it to the Web, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"It is quite possible that these types of incidents will trigger security breach notification laws, because if one user's content is improperly disclosed to another user, even on the same platform, it is basically a breach," he said. "It's like a cellular service provider mailing your cell phone statement to someone else in the wrong envelope."

After storms recently wreaked havoc on the schedules of JetBlue Airways, leaving passengers stranded in airports around the country, the airline came up with a Customer Bill of Rights that offers refunds, vouchers and cash for cancellations, overbookings and departure and ground delays.

But another consumer rights advocate said there's a big difference between the inconvenience and cost involved in disruptions at an airline compared with those at a hosted Web services provider.

See more CNET content tagged:
Flickr, photograph, blog, image, Yahoo! Inc.

17 comments

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Get real, people
Yes, this was embarrassing. Yes, it was a bad experience for some, and the problem should be fixed. But suggesting that Flickr give out coupons because some big-spending $25/yr members got burned is just plain foolish. We have now gone from a blame culture (bad) in which everyone has to apologize for everything to a compensation culture (worse) in which every hiccup on the road to progress has to be righted by dispensing cash. Ridiculous. Flickr is still one of the coolest sites on the Web, and I hope they will weather this storm without leaking too much money.
Posted by P. Jackson (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well...
A company or person *should* apologize for making a mistake. It is a basic tenet of civility and I don't think it is bad.

Of course, the other person should accept the apology and forgive the transgression. Yet another basic tenet of civility.

Should Flickr pay? I don't think so, but if they are going to allow adult only content, then they need to insure it is properly segregated from family friendly content.
Posted by adlyb1 (123 comments )
Link Flag
Fixed.
According to the Flickr blog the problem is in hand, and resolved. This article quotes Mr. Butterfield in the 3rd paragraph, that the problem is solved. So all this concern seems a little misplaced. Flickr hardly has a history of these kinds of mishaps, so I'd venture they are sincere in addressing this problem. I'm hoping so, as I'm an avid flickr user.
Posted by richardault (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
fixed
Apparently this problem has already been addressed...no worries.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ashgilpin.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.ashgilpin.com</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.eyepinch.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.eyepinch.com</a>
Posted by ashgilpincom (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where's my compensation?
I want to be compensated because I missed this opportunity. I'm always up for some free pr0n.
Posted by solrosenberg (124 comments )
Reply Link Flag
big deal
problem discovered, problem fixed, move on.
Posted by glenn467 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The real question here...
is who managed to capture and download all the "secret" pr0n stashes and where are they going to be posted?!
Posted by Hoser McMoose (182 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Did anyone mention flickr is owned by Yahoo!?
yahoo are screwing up all the time, infact the whole company is in crisis talks about its future to deal with its rival google.

if it was going to happen to any company, it was going to happen to a company owned by yahoo!

now i would be looking at other yahoo companies offering the same kind of service and looking if those sites are potentially going to suffer at some point from the same glitch.

to be honest, yes it is bad what happened, but the bigger picture is this couldn't be better for public relations, now everyone will be on flickr searching for the porn.

what this article really says is "by the way, theres porn on flickr, go search on flickr for some and jack off!"

trust me, sexual reference key search words on flickr search engine will spike due to the media coverage about porn on flickr.

formally, its bad and shouldn't happen again and peoples photos were replaced, but its fixed, so ones mind thinks, lets go find the porn and have fun.

thanks cnet, and flickr/yahoo for your publicity stunt.
Posted by sea_net (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give them an inch...
...and most people will take a mile. While most people use flickr in a good way, some people abuse the priviledge and upload porn. Add to this problem flickr's erratic picture switching bug and you got porn on people's pages.

The solution? A simple one. Fix the bug in the software so no more picture switching occurs and find the porn and remove it.

Like anything worth doing, it will take hard work, but it'll be worth it.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yes, people do have sex.
and your children will not die from seeing it.

in fact, they'll do it too. they'll also drink and smoke and do all of the things that everyone experiments with. the hope is, that you haven't been such a blowhard that your "model" of how to act is something they actually want to be too.

imagining pornography to be this huge problem is just stupid; and you look it for ranting the way you do.
Posted by regan2 (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
PORN YES!!!!
they should have a x-rated section with advertising... it might actually be profitable!!

hopefully yahoo will turn this acquisition... with a profit
Posted by wone123 (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh. My. Gosh.
February is a month that's always busy in my family. There's three birthdays and a wedding anniversary. This year, my Gran was celebrating her (cough)th Birthday and we went out for a meal, then we went and saw a play, and then after that we went back to her's for a party. I took loads of pictures.

My Gran recently got the internet, so I uploaded all of the to an online service. I was going to choose Flickr, but Picasa used their Web Albums thing, so I did that. I'm glad I did.

I'd so hate to have to explain why a porn image was displayed instead of a picture of her blowing out her candles. It's just wrong.
Posted by o2mcgovem-20822100750713932708 (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get a Grip
You have several sides to your life. You do not show all of them to every one. That's as it should be. If you have a family, you too have engaged in some of the activities that were depicted in these images. But you don't show that side of yourself to everyone you meet. You are able to keep that separate. Sometimes a glitch happens. The bedroom door isn't locked and the child comes in not invited. It's not the end of the world. You just remember to lock the door next time. That's exactly what has happened here. Flickr made a mistake. It does owe apoligies to those it offended, but life goes on.

What I find alarming is the reaction of people here. Some are rushing to say nothing really happened, those images aren't that bad, no problem here. That's absurd! Something did happen. It shouldn't have happened. Flickr owes apologies. Flickr should fix the problem (and has). But on the other side is the voice of doom claiming I'm not sure what. That's absurd too! I'm sure Flickr did not do this on purpose. That would be the only real problem. The fact that Flickr has porn doesn't surprise me or alarm me at all. It does surprise me that the voice of doom, who is so horrified at porn reaching our children, has posted so many porn sites to this list. Is this list marked adult?


So everybody, enjoy a little frisson of horror or relief that your grandmother didn't get these images, have a good laugh at the embarrassment of all those involved, and go on about your business, remembering to lock your own bedroom door and assuming that others want to do the same.
Posted by acampbell (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
the real problem... and its not a bug
the data is unique... someone probably pulled some strings

the Flickr staff is the problem.. why they allow posting of some and not of others.. I complained about thier verbage in the help faq about not being able to get your pictures posted... they used something like "dont be that guy, you know that guy"... glad they have finally removed it... after I complained none of my seattle hempfest pics would post........ go figure!!
Posted by wone123 (32 comments )
Link Flag
ninth_life
looks like CNet has pulled some of his posts - pity or not
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Flickr is...
its for weirdos, porn, bodies and feet.

Use the clean picasa web if you dont like your kids and family surf on weird pictures from others.
Posted by daretobestupid (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Flickr is...
...just the market leader.
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Link Flag
 

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