Flickr Accidentally Deletes the Wrong Account, Vaporizing 4,000 Photos

When Mirco Wilhelm tried to log into his Flickr account yesterday, he was surprised to find that his 5-year-old Pro account with roughly 4,000 photographs had completely vanished. It then dawned on him that only a week earlier he had reported another account for posting stolen photographs.

He immediately contacted Flickr asking if they had deleted the wrong account by mistake, and received the following email:


Unfortunately, I have mixed up the accounts and accidentally deleted yours. I am terribly sorry for this grave error and hope that this mistake can be reconciled. Here is what I can do from here:

I can restore your account, although we will not be able to retrieve your photos. I know that there is a lot of history on your account–again, please accept my apology for my negligence. Once I restore your account, I will add four years of free Pro to make up for my error.

Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do.
Again, I am deeply sorry for this mistake.


Flickr staff

So basically, Flickr accidentally cast their permanent account deletion spell on the innocent account rather than the guilty one, and there’s nothing they can do except offer four years of Pro membership as an apologetic gesture.

The fact that all account deletions are permanent (and often without warning) has been a lingering issue for quite some time now, but it appears that Flickr is finally addressing the problem — they’re working on making deletions easily reversible.

Flickr has been sending out the following statement to various news sites reporting on the story:

Yesterday, Flickr inadvertently deleted a member’s account. Flickr takes user trust very seriously and we, like our users, take great pride in being able to take, post and share photos. Our teams are currently working hard to try to restore the contents of this user’s account. We are working on a process that would allow us to easily restore deleted accounts and we plan on rolling this functionality out soon.

It’s good that Flick realized that this broken system needs to be fixed, but it’s sad that even one user had to lose 5 years of work for it to happen.

You have to f**king kidding, Yahoo! (via Thomas Hawk)

Update: Turns out Flickr was able to restore Wilhelm’s account, and then gave him 25 years of pro membership for the mistake. We wonder though — would they have done anything if this hadn’t become a PR nightmare for the service? What about all the people who have had photos “permanently” deleted in the past? (Thanks Eugene!)

Update: Interestingly enough, we compared Flickr and Facebook’s image deletion policy a while ago. We found that the two companies have completely different approaches to content deletion — Flickr deletes content almost immediately from their servers when you delete it from the site, while Facebook seems to never delete content.

  • Chris Oaten

    Should we believe Mr Wilhelm didn’t have his own copies stored locally? I find that hard to believe.

  • Maarten in ‘t Groen

    That’s not the first time the “accidentally” push the wrong buttons there… Maybe time for Yahoo to build some protection into the website admin against “accidentally” failing employees…

  • Adam

    If you would have followed the link, he does have local copies of his photos. It’s less about the photos themselves and more about the comments, groups, sets, favorites… the history of his very active account. Plus using Flickr as an image host, those links are all permanently broken now. Flickr excels at community and collaboration, which they’ve just nuked for this guy.

  • Madzia Bryll

    It hardly matters, does it? The man paid to keep his photos online and so a deletion is very very wrong, even if ‘it’s ok because he has other copies’. I store all my photos locally as well, but on Flickr, I have a timeline, I have sets, links to photos from my blog, user comments, tags, conversations, group submissions…Flickr is more than just a storage facility.

  • Pixelita

    Four years of a Pro account, at $25 a pop? Come on, Flickr. A LIFETIME Pro account is the very LEAST you can do.

  • Mark Van J

    Interesting contrast here, where it seems to be an issue that an account can be permanently deleted, whereas there’s been a long standing issue with Facebook because it DIDN’T permanently delete your account. Like Chris said, he should have copies stored locally. Flickr isn’t a backup service but a photo-sharing site, and mistakes can be made.

    I’m just relieved to know that if I want my account deleted, it really will be deleted. Not sure what will happen in the future though.

  • Thomas Hawk

    Wait a minute. So Flickr wasn’t warned about this problem of not being able to restore accounts back in *August of 2009* when Zack Sheppard said:

    “I’m afraid this isn’t the result of some work we’re doing on a restore feature… I’m sorry to disappoint that it’s not the result of a feature. We have heard your feedback about that here, and in the past, and we know it is on some people’s wish list, but it’s not something that we are working on currently.”

    Why does it have to take a major PR blunder to get Yahoo/Flickr to finally give a damn?

  • Taptanium

    That’s silly. They should have backups of their system or some kind of snapshots made every hour, every day, every week, … it just takes some amount of work. I’m sure it’s technically possible to restore it.

  • Anonymous

    Personal computers have had a recycle bin/trash bin concept for 15 to 25 years (Windows and Mac, respectively) and web software designers don’t take that as a useful idea to build into their system up front? Heck, an “account disable” that doesn’t just wipe data can be useful, just in case of mistakes. Good system design should account for mistakes. I must say, Flickr just isn’t being that impressive with its ability to fix SNAFUs, though I’ll give the CSR credit for honesty. It would be easy to stone wall or ignore the emails. Bonus years of Pro account should be in order though, IMO. Everyone should keep local photos, but the valuable thing here is the history and a contact list, and those are gone.

  • Gopan Kombiyil

    in the last week i was wondering about a solution for those who really worry about the existence of Photo Sharing Accounts, there is no meaning in blaming flickr or someone else as they have your signature under their usage terms.

    so solution must be something derived from a discussion of users and technical people. A solution should address different aspects like availability, sustainability, presentation, facilities and comfortability of usage.

    I am initiating a discussion


    Maybe you should have read this carefully and think before you say this.

    Google before say something stupid.


    Nah, What would he/we do with this unreliable service?

    Again, it’s yahoo!


    Seriously, What if someone hacked Flickr?

    Really, Yahoo? What happened to your “Big-Super-Computers” in servers?

  • Anonymous

    One more reason why consumer facing cloud computing has some ways to go before ensuring your content is safe. While it’s truly sad to lose all the social dialog behind every picture posted, I think this is indicative that nothing online is guaranteed to be permanent – an expectation people should have before signing up.

    Still a really sad and unfortunate story with a ridiculous solution. If Flickr really stood by its word to bring people and photos together, I think they would go further than just give this guy 4 years of a pro account.

  • Zak Henry

    If this happened to me, nothing short of a lifetime membership would keep me there. Already considering migrating to another service anyway (Smugmug). Each time one of these issues arises I’m more tempted

  • Anonymous

    Thing is, this is what happens to you if you complain at Flickr. They don’t like having to actually do work. That’s pretty obvious from the fact that after over five years of losing people’s photos like this, they still fail to back up anything. The founder even lost all his stuff at that cluster-f of a social network gone wrong. What’s funny about those slackers at Yahoo’s Flickr is that they think they can pull off hosting a porn site, while pretending it’s a family friendly place for your kids’ photos. That may be fine for the average user that wacks off at work, but not so good for an advertising platform, as it turns out. You see, major corporations and small businesses alike have an issue with their ads being surreptitiously placed onto hardcore pornographic web pages without being told about that. Yahoo’s Flickr can play this game of hide-the-porn while tricking the general public into trusting them. But those lies don’t really fly in the advertising world on which Yahoo depends. Everyday, several people get deleted from Yahoo’s Flickr as that company desperately attempts to make their porn site not really appear to be one on the surface. The copyright infringement is the same thing on a smaller scale. They count on people stealing your content, that’s why they tricked you into placing it all online in an easily accessible catalog of stock images from trusting idiots. Make any kind complaint about the way they are doing anything, and you’re booted out mercilessly. That’s just the way it goes and Yahoo doesn’t care one bit how you feel, because they obviously do whatever they want to. They have the government in their pocket and free reign to push porn into grade schools unlabeled, give your photos away for free to anyone that wants them without liability, and harbor countless sexual predators, pedophiles, and registered sex offenders, whom they cloak so they can be right next to your children without anyone being suspicious. Can’t really see anything worthwhile about that website, or Yahoo in general. It’s all lies from them, and everyone eats it up with a clueless smile.

  • Dean W Thompson

    Giving warning is what they need to do. Not keep back ups of photos. If I delete a photo of mine I would hope that it has been deleted, not stored off is some vault.

  • lloyd

    flickr should have backups, even if its one a month. surely they can bend over and sort this out?

  • Wing Wong

    I’ve got a SmugMug Pro account and a Flickr Pro account. I’ve been debating the point of having two in the last few months. I’ve been watching Flickr news since the last mass delete without recourse and this one is just terrifying to me. It basically equates to 4 years of professional and personal relationships, web links, comments, and meta information from tagging, that has just been vaporized, without any means provided to backup said information.

    The only reason I keep my FlickrPro account around is because it’s fairly inexpensive. However, if Flickr doesn’t clean up their act, and I mean YESTERDAY, there would be no point in investing time or money into a Flickr account, as it can be destroyed irrevocably through carelessness.

    The worst part of this is that he had to contact Flickr himself. They didn’t realize they made the error and notify him. WTH!?

  • Wing Wong

    Given the amount of data they are hosting, it would be extremely expensive to backup their data, or even offer a snapshot option. I’m sure it is in their best interest to permanently delete as soon as they can. Lost comments/links/etc? That’s even better, as that’s less meta data for them to have to index and store. The hassle of re-uploading images back usually has users uploading less than what they had. It’s a win for Flickr/Yahoo and a big middle finger to the end user.

    Flagging content as “deleted” and holding it for a grace period would mean needed additional CDN purge/unpurge, which costs them money… so, an option like that would be more work, time, and money than they want to expend for something that needs to be profitable. So… why bother unless you absolutely have to?

  • Beth B

    This actually happened to me a while back. I had posted a few jewelry photos, mentioned the word “Etsy” once, yes, ONE TIME, and poof, my entire photostream was gone. I contacted support, asked why my photos had been deleted, and pointed out soooo many other gross offenders (you know the ones I speak off). Long story short, I had so many photos, a complete set of “365 days” photographs, and though I had backed up many of my photos, of course, some of them could never be recovered. I waited a full year until I joined again, but I still think some of flickr’s policies are disgusting. I really think flickr needs to remedy this whole “we can delete your photos at any time, without any reason” rule.

    And that apology? A joke. They need to at least figure a way to “save” a photostream temporarily if they eff up this badly. They should seriously pay this person some serious cash. 4000 photos. So sad for this guy. SO unfair. Flickr pretends to be all cutesy and what not, but at the heart of it, they are the kings and queens of the “knee-jerk reaction.” And it’s unacceptable.

  • Beth B

    I agree. It’s not that much bandwidth.

  • Beth B

    Yeah, but a simple “hey, fix this or we will delete your account” would suffice.” In my case, I was given NO explanation. I had nothing “naughty” on there, and I mentioned the word “Etsy” once. That’s it. Oh, the horror!

  • Beth B

    You are so very right. I just hope there’s another more popular photo site, and soon, with less rules. Especially mentioning Etsy. Not only that, but truly, disgusting photostreams have stayed up for months. That’s unacceptable. The people that work @ flickr suck.

  • Madzia Bryll

    Uh, but what do we pay them for, then? Of course they host a lot of data but they don’t do it for free. An internet hosting service which doesn’t do backups is a joke.

  • Wing Wong

    Can’t agree with you more. Just voicing what I suspect is the business logic behind the apparent policies.

  • Wing Wong

    Preaching to the choir. Just voicing what I thought their business logic behind such policies might be.

  • Wing Wong

    Looks like they were able to restore the guy’s account and upped it to 25 years of pro service. That’s awesome, for that one customer, who only got that level of bend over backwards customer service after a big PR fiasco erupted.

    Here’s something that can’t restore: my 2 pro accounts, which I cancelled today.

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  • Don Whiteside

    I’m sure they do, but restoring a backup of the entire system in the event of failure is a different matter from pulling out just one chunk/user. It’s often doable to recover just pieces of a backup, depending on how the backup is structured, but it’s almost always a major endeavor.

    What makes Flickr Flickr and what this person was most upset to lose was precisely what makes it harder to do this kind of recovery – the inter-connectedness of it all.

  • Gopan Kombiyil

    @Beth and others looking for an alternative, please record your comments and suggestions on lets try to make something worth the effort

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  • Gopan Kombiyil

    this is only possible by a community initiative, just another company will not make much difference

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  • Wes Jones

    Accidents happen. I applaud Flickr for admitting the mistake and giving him 25 years of free service.