Update on the Censorship Problem on Flickr
[I'm CEO of Zooomr]
Well yesterday felt kind of weird for me. I think it was the first day in about 2 years that I didn’t upload any photos to Flickr. I’ve been a pretty fanatical user there uploading typically 5 to 10 photos every single day. The last photo I uploaded there was on Thursday though and I haven’t uploaded another one since. I’m pissed at Flickr right now and so as much as I enjoy sharing my photos there I just didn’t feel like uploading any. I’m sure I’ll upload photos there again, but maybe not until they work out this massive censorship problem with their site.
I think also for the first time this past week my feelings may have turned more personally bitter against the site. Having people from Yahoo attack me and Zooomr anonymously in the blogosphere without disclosing their affiliation. Being censored at Flickr yet again in a help forum. The irony of having to look at a little “Flickr Loves You” bug at the top of my photo pages when it probably really should read “Flickr Hates You” in my case, etc.
It’s weird, even though I decided to work on Zooomr, I’ve always felt very good about Flickr and especially the people who work on Flickr before this past week. Sure I’ve been critical of Flickr, and I was critical of Flickr before joining Zooomr, but I always felt mostly positive about the site and service, especially from a user perspective. Anyways, hopefully it was just a particularly rotten week and I’ll feel differently soon. But I probably won’t be uploading any more photos to the site until the censorship thing in Germany is fixed.
So back to the censorship in Germany thing. It’s actually beyond just Germany, but the latest update from Flickr staff is this:
“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.”
There’s a lot more to it than just this and you can read a lot more of the back and forth details on the situation at the official Flickr forum thread on the issue here. There are almost 2800 comments (minus my deleted and censored ones) there now mostly from Germans who object to being treated like they are children and cannot see much of what is on Flickr — despite the fact that Flickr staff says that they don’t want to treat them like children.
I dunno. For what it’s worth I’m not buying the legal defense thing here. I mean the censorship thing was turned on overnight. Germany went from being uncensored one day to being censored the next. Certainly Yahoo has lots of smart lawyers and I can’t believe that they were putting themselves in harms way for so long before this. If I were Yahoo I’d probably just revert Germany back to how it was before until they get their legal ducks in a row and then turn the German localization back on then. I’m sure it’s not as simple as this, but I would think that the risk that they had before they flipped the localization switch really probably wasn’t that great and that another month or so of that risk probably wouldn’t end up with anyone in jail until they can get whatever system plans they need to get worked out. I seriously doubt that the German government would put anyone in jail in fact simply for offering an uncensored photo sharing site. Maybe I’m wrong and Yahoo got a letter or something from the German authorities threatening them. But if this is the case if it were me I’d make a letter like that public and use it to reinforce my position.
I also find it offensive that Flickr keeps trying to dismiss censorship. In Flickr’s current official response Heather Champ says that this issue with Germany was “never about censorship,” and yet it is censorship. This is similar to official language used by Flickr before when they tried to argue that censorship on Flickr could not be considered censorship because we agree to terms of service on the site. That’s lame. I think rather than trying to dismiss this as not being censorship when it very much is, Flickr should just say, yes, we’re censoring Germany at the present time but would rather not be and are working on a way to get it fixed. To try to dismiss that this is about censorship just makes people more mad I think.
Anyways, that’s my two cents.
The mainstream press of course has finally picked up on this story. You can now read about it in places like CNET, Wired, The International Herald Tribune, Forbes, and from TV websites from affiliates of Fox and CBS.
I’ve read an awful lot of articles, stories, comments, blog posts, and heated debate all over the internet about this issue over the past week. I think the best summary of the current situation though that I’ve seen on the internet yet comes from Pierre Honeyman. Pierre is someone on Flickr that I respect a great deal. He’s a great photographer but he’s also been a staunch anti-censorship proponent. You can read Pierre’s thoughts on the matter here. Be warned that you may find some of the language in Pierre’s post offensive:
“I find the lack of response from Flickr interesting. It seems that when problems are easy Flickr staff are quick to jump in, solve them, and be all friendly and communicative about them. When problems are hard the opposite appears true: rather than communicate Flickr staff clam up and appear to be doing nothing. As a result large segments of the community feel condescended to.
Flickr is much less of a community than it used to be, and I’ve only been here just over 2 years. Flickr has always been absolutely lousy about communicating to users certain decisions they may feel somewhat icky about, like the old NIPSA system, and the current silent setting of accounts to be “unsafe”, but this is fucking ridiculous.
Four entire countries, well three and a city, are now being told that they aren’t adult enough to handle all of what Flickr has to offer, despite handling it just fine up until a few days ago. And then Heather, the Community Manager, has the gall to pop in sometime yesterday and cry about the terms Flickr and Censor being used together: well suck it up crybaby, because Flickr is acting as a Censor in a very strict interpretation of the term. Flickr is, on behest of the State, determining what is permissible for their customers to view.
And, Flickr is doing it in an incredibly hamfisted way.
We were all assured that using Yahoo! sign-ons wouldn’t effect our Flickr experience in any way. But now those self-same Yahoo! sign-ons are being used to determine, inaccurately, who is to be censored.
This decision is couched in terms of business, but it feels like a gutless sell-out that only predicts less, not more, community building in the future. There appears to be a widening gap between what users consider to be their interests and what Flickr considers to be their users interests, and Flickr doesn’t appear to
be paying any attention to this. People came here because Flickr had soul: Flickr felt different and open, and fun, and edgy, and there was a lot of really cool stuff going on. People stayed after Yahoo! because people were assured, time and time again, that “nothing would change.”
So Flickr either has to go back to Yahoo! and take their fucking balls back or admit that they are no longer in control, creative or otherwise, of what was once theirs.