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Are Your Photos Safe Online? Maybe Not on Flickr

Storing your photographs on the internet is both convenient and sensible. Uploading pictures to a photo sharing site – like Flickr – means that you can easily share them with friends and family, while also providing a safe back-up of your files should the worst happen to your computer. But can you really trust these sites with your private photos?


A recent problem with Flickr highlighted just how precarious storing any information on the internet can be. A simple error in Flickr’s code – so nothing to do with its users or hackers – meant that some users’ private photos became public for as long as 20 days. That seems like an unacceptably long time for what amounts to an internal problem at the company.

Luckily for users, the bug developed in such a way that those photos could only be seen if other users had the direct address to the formerly private photos – an unlikely occurrence. And while these photos may not have appeared in search results or Flickr’s indexes, it still doesn’t prevent the scary truth:

Information you store on the internet is at the mercy of the companies that hold it

Flickr wouldn’t have made this mistake maliciously, but if a small bug can expose photos from the largest dedicated image-sharing site, what does that say for the rest of the industry?

And – not to try and scare everyone away from the internet – what if a similar situation occurred with your email account? It’s a scary thought, and it shows that we should all spend time carefully choosing which companies we give our data to – rather than just signing up for every new online service we see.

Finally, the Flickr issue also raises another problem – communication. Flickr didn’t notify its users about the bug until after it had remedied the situation – 20 days later. It’s similar to when Sony didn’t tell its users that the Playstation Network had suffered a giant hack just over a year ago. The companies might want to save face, but at the expense of their users’ data? No thanks!

I’m not saying it’s time to quit using Flickr – after all, every software company can make mistakes – and Flickr provides a great service most of the time. However, if you see more problems with picture-sharing site – and if it still doesn’t communicate the issues to its customers – then maybe it is time to find somewhere new.

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