Flickr Bug Turned Private Photos Public for Nearly a Month


Improperly handling people’s photos is a huge faux pas that can generate a lot of furor. If you need an example, look no further than Instagram’s policy debacle. But Flickr recently messed up, and the company is trying to apologize and clean up its mess as quickly and quietly as possible before it gets in the way of what has become a pretty remarkable renaissance.

According to Barry Schwartz of Marketing Land, due to a software bug, his and many other users’ photos that were set to private were actually publicly accessible for nearly a month.

Fortunately, if you don’t know about the problem then you probably weren’t affected by it; everybody Flickr thought might have been affected has been sent an e-mail from VP Brett Wayn. But, according to that e-mail, any photos uploaded between April and December of 2012 were accessible to the general public between January 18th and February 7th, even if they were set to private.

Here’s that e-mail:


On the bright side, the photos were neither indexed by search engines, nor included in Flickr’s search, so ‘intruders’ would have had to have a direct link to your photography. However, in fixing the problem, Flickr may have caused another.

As a precaution, Flickr has changed any photos it believed to have been accidentally ‘publicized’ back to private, and irked a few users in the process. Changing a photo to private removes favorites, breaks share links, and removes website embeds … not something you want happening by accident.

Those who want to make sure their photos weren’t affected can do so by visiting a special link provided by Flickr. And if you’re had your photos turned private by accident, we’re sorry to say you’ll have to manually change your settings back and re-embed any affected images.

Flickr Privacy Bug Set Some Private Photos To Public [Marketing Land via PCMag]

  • Samcornwell

    Yahoo made an accident and an issued apology.

    Instagram changing their TOS to sell users’ photographs was intentional. And their apology wasn’t up to much either.

  • Mansgame

    Hard to imagine why flickr is dying.

  • Thomas Hawk

    This is not a big deal. It apparently affected a very small number of accounts. This is one of those things that sounds a lot worse than it probably was. It is a good reminder though that almost anything you upload to the web is potentially at risk for public exposure regardless of any settings. Someone could hack into your account, a friend/family that you *did* give access to could reshare that image or download it — lots of things could happen.

    It is admirable and notable that Flickr VP and GM Brett Wayn personally issued a message under his own signature to the accounts affected. This sort of message could have easily been covered under a more generic “to whom it may concern” sort of response.

    While this sort of thing makes salacious headline material, to me it’s really not that big of deal. The bigger story is that Flickr is in the midst of an amazing renaissance rebuilding itself as a serious photo contender on the web. The recent iPhone app, the new justified mosaic layout, the staffing up and hiring of designers and engineers — the future feels bright for Flickr for the first time in many years. Marissa Mayer may be the first Yahoo CEO ever to publicly have a Flickr account.

    These are the things that I think are more important and what people should be focused on.

  • Eziz

    Sadly, software errors are inevitable. I think that was a pretty mature response.

  • harumph

    It affected my account and I never got that e-mail. I thought I had messed up my settings somehow, but this explains it.