Flickr – A Photo Community in Troubled Waters

Surveillance Camera with Flickr Sticker
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Those of you who followed my recent posts, will have seen that a number of posts dealt with my experience at Flickr, a stunning community of photographers around the world. Now, Flickr was once a startup company and behaved like one – their users came always first. Always. The Flickr staff would do anything to create a positive environment for their community.

The startup team at Flickr, a friendly bunch of people by the way, was so successful in growing their community that they got acquired by Sunnyvale/CA based Internet giant Yahoo! And so Flickr was merged into the Yahoo! family of sites, and things have changed over time, and many say – not for good. Recently, Flickr has reached troubled waters, and their service is making headline news:

  1. Flickr is a heaven for photo thieves, aka the Youtube for photos
  2. China is blocking access to Flickr services
  3. Flickr censors content for users in Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong, and Korea

The recent complaint of Flickr censoring content is based on the fact that Flickr has changed what members can actually see when they are associated with an account in the affected countries. Basically, any member in these countries can only see pictures that are regarded as being “safe” as per the definition of the Flickr service. This prevents for example the display of certain adult themed photos, even if these can be considered as art.

As I write this, hundreds of Flickr users in Germany are barking at the Californian company, many of them being “pro” subscribers paying $24.95 annually for using advanced features of the service. Several subscribers have already announced to cancel their subscriptions and to turn their back to the company that was once thought to be a friendly and liberal community itself.

The financial loss for Flickr/Yahoo! may be neglectible – even if 10,000 subscribers cancel their account, this is just a loss of $250,000 – the damage to the Flickr brand is huge. Some say that “to be flickred” may become a synonyme for “to be censored”, just like “to google” stands for “to search the Internet”.

Censor n.
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Interestingly, the reactions of the Flickr PR department were slow and weak and appeared to be not planned in advance as part of the plans for the launch event of the German language version of Flickr. One would have thought that such an important (and touchy) issue would have been one of the major points during the communication planning. Apparently, it was forgotten or ignored. That’s the reason for the lack of official statements coming from Flickr. Heather Powazek Champ, a Flickr manager who responds to users in the official Flickr Help Forum, wrote:

The decision to change the Flickr experience in Germany was never about censorship – it was made to try to ensure that Yahoo! Germany was in compliance with local legal restrictions. In fact, we’re all getting really uncomfortable that the words “flickr” and “censorship” are being jammed together with increasing frequency because that is _so far_ from the direction we’re trying to move in.

The central problem is that Germany has much more stringent age verification laws than its neighboring countries and specifies much harsher penalties, including jail time, for those with direct responsibility (in our case, it would be our colleagues in the German offices and we’re not willing to make a call that has that kind of consequence for them).

Up to the point of launch we had been exploring every possible approach which would allow us to do what makes sense while still operating inside the law. Unfortunately, the solutions did not come together in the way we thought they would.

This reads like a reasonable statement, yet it lacks the information protesting Flickr members are looking for – the exact quotes of German laws that made this move inevitable for Flickr. Apparently the problem arises out of the desire to use a German top level domain ( along its German user interface. In this case Flickr might indeed be responsible for the content uploaded by its users under German law. In order to prevent this situation, Flickr could have continued to operate its US-based service (on with the German branch of Yahoo! acting as Sales/Marketing organization just as they did in the past. Problem solved.

It’s hard to understand why Flickr/Yahoo! do not paddle back and just cancel the plan to use a German domain name, or put an explanation on that domain name, asking users to go to if they want to experience the service. The media are starting to pick up the topic, and the noise will be massive as summer slump has already set in.

Recommended Reading (in English):
Discussion at the Flickr Help Forum (official site)
Flickr curtails German photo sharing (CNET)
German Users In Revolt Over Flickr Image Restrictions (Wired)
The Germans get their Flickrs (The Observer)
Flickr filter raises eyebrows (Heise online)
You Have Been Flickrd (by Michael G. Noll)
A German’s view on the Flickr censorship issue (by Franz Patzig)
The flickr censorship drama – my personal view (by Sascha Aßbach)
Live By Community – Die By Community (by Scott Karp)
Nazis, Censorship and Control: community hot buttons
(by Tara Hunt)
flickr censorship germany (Google Search)

Empfohlene Artikel (auf Deutsch):
Flickrs Deutschlandebüt wird zum Flop (FAZ)
Im Zweifel gegen die Nutzer (
Mitmach-Netz: flickr filtert den Protest (Spiegel online)
Beispiel Flickr: Wie weit darf man gehen? (
Yahoo Deutschland hat da wohl ein Flickr-Problem (von Jens Scholz)
flickr sperrt Deutsche aus?! (von Till Westermayer)
Flickr brütet Tag und Nacht Über der Krise (von Cem Basman)
Flickr: Dann lösch’ doch Deinen Account! (von Nico Zorn)
Der Fall Flickr: Soziale Netzwerke als Ware (von Till Westermayer)
This photo is unavailable to you (von Don)
flickr (von Thorsten Gieseler)
Flickr Alternativen (von Don)

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