A Flickr bug broke the website’s privacy settings for a number of users, making their private photos visible for 20 days.
Flickr is one of the biggest photo and video sharing websites in the world. As we have already seen with Facebook and Instagram, bigger does not always mean better or safer. A software bug of the service has caused private photos to become visible for a period between January 18th and February 7th.
The Flickr bug did not affect all accounts
Barry Schwartz of Marketing Land was the first to report the problem. He said that Flickr’s Vice President, Barry Wayn, sent him an email explaining that the view settings of some photos were changed from non-public to public. According to Schwartz, he had about 700 photos set to private. Most of them were family pictures and he specifically set them to non-public, in order to avoid exposing his private life to his Flickr followers.
The email sent by Flickr VP Barry Wayn confirmed that the bug only had an effect on photos uploaded in the April-December 2012 time frame. It was confirmed that the bug did not affect all users. This was the reason why the company did not issue a public statement, as the number of users affected was so small that Flickr contacted each affected user individually.
The “good” thing was that the private photos were not indexed by Google or other search engines, as they were only visible for those with a direct link. The most affected people were those who had “very naughty” photos uploaded on Flickr and set to private.
A support thread on the Flickr forums is full of users complaining that the software bug may have damaged their life because the X-rated photos were exposed to public viewers.
How to make matters even worse, courtesy of Flickr
Flickr did try to solve the issue in those 20 days, but it only made matters worse. The company decided to set all public photos to private on the affected accounts. The problem was that many users relied on the service to upload photos on their blogs or websites. When the settings were changed to private, all photos disappeared from the websites.
Most people would say that it is only a matter of making the photos private again, but the problem with Flickr is that changing permissions means changing the code. As a result, image descriptions are gone and users have to re-write them and edit their blog posts as well.
The bug has been fixed and the company has assured users that this will not occur in the future. In order to check whether their account was affected, users should sign into their account and access this Flickr help link. It will let them know whether the bug has changed the view setting of their photos from non-public to public.