Flickr bug makes users' private photos public

Flickr users are livid over a recent bug causing their private photos to be made public.

A software bug that was identified during routine site maintenance was responsible for the error, Flickr Vice President Brett Wayn said in an online forum thread. Though the affected photos did not appear in search results, they were visible on Flickr between Jan. 18 and Feb. 7, he said.

Only a small percentage of photos, limited to those uploaded between April and December of 2012, were affected, Flickr said.

Flickr has not acknowledged the problem on its official blog; affected users were notified individually with the message that was posted to the forum.

User response

Not surprisingly, users are ticked off, judging from their reactions online. It is "very worrying" that images' privacy settings could be changed spontaneously, one person said on the forum.

The error is "very frustrating," another said -- "enough for me to go elsewhere."

Moreover, Flickr may have made things worse in its attempt to fix the problem, by setting any potentially affected photos in users' accounts to "private." This means that the links and embeds associated with the images for other websites will no longer work, Flickr said.

Because making a public photo private on Flickr changes the image's URL, the HTML code needs to be manually corrected for each photo, users are pointing out.

The problem came as a particular blow to one user's food blogging site. "Not only do I have to go back and change all the permissions, but changing the permissions changes the code, which means I have to go through each post and reapply all my pictures," said user MommyNamedApril, in the forum. "This is hundreds of pictures. I am utterly disgusted and shaking I am so angry."

Others responded more cynically. "Why would anyone put something on the Internet and then expect privacy?" one asked.

Nothing private on the Internet?

"Things that are set to 'private' are always at some risk of being accidentally exposed or accessed in some other way," agreed Rebecca Jeschke, digital rights analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology privacy rights group. "That's something it's important to think about anytime you upload something to an application or store it in the cloud."

Some users reported that they have since been contacted by Flickr to help them restore the URLs and other details associated with impacted photos.

Flickr says it has put in place additional measures to prevent the problem from happening again.

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