Posts Tagged ‘Censorship’

Alleged Con Man Graham Hnedak Uses Flickr to Source Victims and Then Victims Get Accounts Deleted by Flickr Staff for Documenting Fraud

James Kimball first met Graham Hnedak, a convicted con man who had served almost four years in prison in Tennessee, in January of 2009. Their initial introduction had been simple enough — Hnedak made a comment on one of Kimball’s Flickr photos. More interaction on Flickr quickly followed and soon Kimball and Hnedak had become fast online friends.

One thing led to another, Hnedak needed a place to live, and Kimball and his partner Rich Bailey agreed to allow Hnedak to live with them for two weeks in exchange for room and board (with a contract) according to Kimball. Kimball claims that this arrangement ended up in a personal nightmare when it ended up taking five months to get Hnedak out, during which time Hnedak defrauded them telling lie after lie and story after story as to the money that he owed them. Kimball documents what he calls his “five months of hell” month by month in detail on the photo descriptions in this set of his here.

Since that time Graham Hnedak has been charged by Seattle prosecutors with 8 counts of felony forgery for allegedly charging thousands of dollars on another former roommate’s credit cards. You can watch the most recent news report on Hnedak from KOMO News above.

On this news report there are dozens of other comments by people also claiming to be victimized by Hnedak in the past.

According to Kimball, Hnedak is a charming con man who uses his still active Flickr account here to source victims. Kimball said that he has complained to Flickr about Hnedak’s activity and even provided documentation of the fraud charges against him to no avail. Angry at having been victimized by Hnedak, Kimball then turned to his own Flickrstream to tell his story and inform the Flickr community about Hnedak. Kimball estimates that there are over 30 victims of Hnedak’s in the Seattle area and at least one victim from as far away as New Zealand.

Unfortunately, Kimball says, his own accounts have now been deleted three times by Flickr staff as he’s tried to warn others in the Flickr Community. All three times he said these accounts were deleted without warning or explanation. It was only after Kimball insisted on an explantition after his third account deletion that he was provided with a formal response from Flickr. According to Kimball they told him that his account had been deleted because he was “harassing” Hnedak.

In a post on his 4th new account on Flickr entitled “I Will Not Be Silenced” Kimball expresses his frustration at Flickr over deleting his accounts:

“Am I angry? No, frustrated is a better word to use. I don’t understand why so many other social sites have removed his accounts when evidence was provided but Flickr doesn’t seem to care. Is it a matter that they don’t care about their community? That’s a very good question.

In all honesty I don’t get it. Why leave Graham’s account up when from the evidence and testimonials others have offered to Flickr? He has used Flickr to gain victims, solicit money, advertise fake business, he posts photos that are not his, he slanders people and so on. What does it take to get Flickr to take notice? It would seem pretty easy since this was my 3rd account to get deleted. Oddly enough every complaint I have sent to Flickr has come back from the same person and they don’t seem to care.”

I tried to contact Hnedak via flickrmail but did not receive a response. I was able to find a William Graham Hendak listed in the Tennessee Felony Offender database as being released from prison in Tennessee in August of 2007. I also contacted PR contacts at Yahoo and received no response from them either — although at least one page from a former account of Kimballs would appear to be online in a version of Google’s cache. If I hear back from either Flickr/Yahoo or Hnedak directly, I will post their response as an update to this post.

Thanks to Invisible Cirkus for the heads up on this story.

Update: It would appear that Graham Hendak’s Flickr account has now been deleted.

Yahoo! Totally You = Totally Screwed

Yahoo!  Totally You = Totally Screwed

While Yahoo! professes to care about "you" in their new multi million dollar marketing campaign, in actuality Yahoo!’s Flickr destroys user data.

Your sites, your mail, your friends, your whatever, yes totally.

…unless your site is on Yahoo’s flickr and then they can nuke it whenever they feel like it.

More information here.

An Open Letter to Elisa Steele EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo Inc. on the New “The Internet is You,” Yahoo Marketing Campaign

An Open Letter to Elisa Steele EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo Inc. on the New "The Internet is You," Yahoo Marketing Campaign

Dear Elisa:

Last month when you announced Yahoo! Inc’s new multi-million dollar ad campaign including the tagline, “the internet’s under new management yours,” I wrote you an open letter. While admittedly the letter was critical and even a bit sarcastic at times regarding censorship on Yahoo’s photo sharing site Flickr, I nonetheless was hopeful that perhaps Yahoo was sincere in your latest marketing message. I thought the statement was much better than the last big Yahoo marketing campaign about everybody needing to wear purple clothes or whatever, and as someone who values customer service oriented companies, I thought it was a positive statement for Yahoo to make.

Unfortunately, at this point, however, I am going to have to call bullshit on your new campaign. I assume it’s ok with you that I’m using such strong language to describe your campaign. Your boss Carol Bartz has built a big reputation as a tough talker with salty language so I’m hoping you’ll understand.

You see Elisa, despite the fact that seemingly everywhere I turn in San Francisco I see another one of your new ads on a bus shelter somewhere, the message rings hollow. It’s doublespeak. It’s inauthentic.

Yesterday, your Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ destroyed a community on Flickr that was home to over 3,000 hard-core Yahoo users. It was a community of photographers, many of whom have spent years on Yahoo in a group that was rich and vibrant. The group had over 5,000 ongoing conversations in it. It’s where many of us lived on Yahoo. The group was in part dedicated to free speech, but it was so much more than that. The group was a place where we talked about music. Where we shared tips on photography. Where we debated about film vs. digital. Where we went to ask each other for advice on what lens we ought to purchase next. It was a place where many of us went to meet each day. It was a place where offline photography meetups were organized. We actually published a magazine together. Many of us became good friends in real life.

But yesterday, while we were conversing there, and without any warning or opportunity to take any sort of self-corrective action, your Community Manager went nuclear and destroyed all of that user data. All of it. Every last thread. With a push of a button. Threads that were meaningful and important to us.

This was data that did not belong to Yahoo! Elisa. You destroyed something that did not belong to you. You destroyed hours and hours of peoples hard work maliciously and callously. You destroyed a group dedicated to free speech, but more significantly you destroyed a group that thousands of people had put significant emotional energy into.

And do you know what your Community Manager was tweeting mere seconds before she nuked this very popular group Elisa? She was tweeting “I hate your freedom.”

That’s right Elisa I, hate, your, freedom. That’s the image that I chose to go with this letter to you. A screenshot of her freedom hating tweet.

While I’m sure your representative got a good laugh out of that tweet, personally I found it as offensive as the fact that so much user data was destroyed so callously in the first place. You see Elisa, Yahoo already has a problem with people thinking that you hate freedom. Remember when Jerry Yang got called before the U.S. Congress and was brow beaten after you all released private emails to the Chinese Govt which resulted in a Chinese journalist’s imprisonment to this day? Remember just last week when rumors (very unfounded rumors I might add) were flying that Yahoo! had released private information on thousands of freedom seeking dissidents to the Iranian Govt?

“I hate your freedom?” Really Elisa? This is the marketing message that you as Yahoo’s Chief Marketing Officer want to send out to the world as you rip apart an online community dedicated to free speech. It’s distasteful and it’s offensive.

You see Elisa, all the money spent in the world on bus stop billboards cannot make your marketing message ring true when the real voices, real human authentic voices online, ring out that the internet (at least at Yahoo!) is in fact very much not under our management at all. In fact our feelings are not taken into consideration one iota. We, thousands of us, are tossed aside, thrown out like garbage. Our hard work destroyed by you. Not only do actions like this invalidate your message, they create enormous ill will against Yahoo that will stand for many years going forward.

A number of help forum threads (now all conveniently locked down by your staff) were created over the destruction of this group. I will quote you the official Yahoo! statement, again from Ms. Champ stated in one of those locked threads:

“Flickr is a community with fences. If you want the open range, then unfortunately, what you want to do is beyond what we allow.”

You see how that reads Elisa? It does not read that Yahoo is all about “you” at all. It’s a patronizing statement that says Yahoo is not about what “you” want. It’s about what “we” want. I hope you can see how this statement directly contradicts your current marketing slogan that the internet is under new management, you.

I’m sure you are familiar with John Gilmore, Elisa, a well respected thinker who co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a quite respected organization that fights for freedom online. John Gilmore once said, “the Internet perceives censorship as damage and routes around it.” And that’s what many of us have now done. Many of us in the community that was destroyed have now decided that we will no longer use Yahoo for our community experience. Yahoo simply cannot be trusted to not destroy thousands of hours of our work in the future. Instead we will be using community space hosted by one of your competitors, FriendFeed, a site owned by Facebook.

You see, despite not having a large glitzy “the internet’s about you,” campaign, to my knowledge FriendFeed has never censored anyone. They have this really cool feature allowing users to block somebody if you don’t like what they have to say instead. It’s great. When you do that they just disappear entirely on the site for you. Poof. Magic. Rather than pay for salaries and benefits for a team of censors, they just let their users block content that they don’t like and let me tell you, it works *alot* better that way.

Interestingly enough Elisa, FriendFeed was founded in part by the very guy who came up with the Google (another one of your competitors) slogan, “don’t be evil,” — as a marketing exec I’m sure you realize how powerful of a corporate message that has turned out to be, much more powerful than everybody needs to wear purple.

I’d hope that you could see how nuking an entire group over what was a skirmish between maybe two members in the group might not make sense. You used a shotgun to kill a gnat.

Many things could have been done to more responsibly address the Yahoo concern in question. Admins of the group could have been warned and given an opportunity to take corrective action on their own, the single offending post could have been deleted rather than destroying thousands of posts 99.9% of which were entirely unoffensive, you could have simply removed what you found offensive and locked the group down, leaving a rich collection of user data to at least exist in an archive format for future reference for those who had created it.

It did not need to be nuked.

I do hope you take a moment out of your busy day to address this situation personally Elisa because it is damaging to both Yahoo’s brand and your own campaign that you are spending significant shareholder money on.

And as long as these are the types of actions that you and your management stand behind then your current campaign is very much meaningless indeed. I do also hope that you do not allow your staff to personally retaliate against me by nuking my own flickr photostream for writing to you what is in fact a very respectful letter.

Thomas Hawk

Flickr Censors User Over Images of… Mannequins?

Montreal Adult Store Display<br />
Update: If you don’t think Flickr should censor photos of mannequins, consider digging this post here. Well I was disappointed to receive emails last week from one of my Flickr contacts James Doiron. James has been a very active Flickr user over the past several years and has maintained the incredibly prolific mannequindisplay photostream. To date James has uploaded over 25,000 images (mostly of mannequins) and has had over 3 million views on his photostream.

I’ve been collecting mannequin images myself for a few years now and have a set of 766 mannequin images at present. A distant runner up to James’ far larger collection.

I was disappointed because recently I’d learned that Flickr had censored 100% of James’ 25,000 plus images by slapping an adult rating on his entire photostream.

What this means is that James’ images are pulled from search and other public site areas of Flickr. He’s essentially buried on Flickr — persona non grata. He goes behind the Flickr wall of shame along with the many other pornographers that call Flickr home. James was obviously disappointed to see the resulting drop off in traffic from his images and wrote in to Flickr to express his dissatisfaction and hope to obtain clarification as to why his stream had been blacklisted.

Here is the email response that he got back from Flickr:

James

Hello, mannequindisplay!

This is an automatically generated copy of a help case reply:

————————-
Hello,

Content like the examples below from your photostream still need to be moderated.

www.flickr.com/photos/31376396@N07/3199683812/

www.flickr.com/photos/mannequindisplay/102386206/

www.flickr.com/photos/mannequindisplay/214518707/

-Terrence

————————-

Now the first thing to point out here is that the first image that Flickr is objecting too isn’t even James’ image. Apparently at Flickr now your own photostream can be held liable for what Flickr considers adult images in streams that are *totally unrelated to you.* The censors at Flickr frequently make mistakes though (just last month they permanently deleted a harmless video of some kids playing basketball for no reason) so let’s chalk their first image objected to as yet another mistake by the underlings in the Flickr Censorship Division.

But the next two images (one posted above)? Really? Flickr is going to classify someone’s entire stream of 25,000+ entirely harmless images as adult content simply because the prudes in the Flickr Censorship Division object to photos of mannequins? Are they joking? Alas, unfortunately they are not.

So what else does having your account labeled as adult mean? Well it means that nobody can include your images in a gallery of any kind. In fact, one of the first galleries I made myself was one of mannequins. I’ve been trying to do one new gallery each day on Flickr but I can’t include any of James’ 25,000+ images because Flickr deems them “too hot to handle.”

The trend of giving mannequins nipples has been going on for a number of years now. Walk by any Victoria’s Secret in America and you’re bound to run into them. if you are into mannequin nipples here’s a few that I’ve taken myself. You can pretty much find them in any mall in America.

Or if you’d rather see one from Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ’s stream you can find that here. Of course some might consider allowing Heather (Flickr Staff) to have uncensored images of mannequin nipples a bit of a Flickr double standard, but why should Flickr staff need to play by the same rules as the rest of us?

Even worse than mannequin nipples, you can find over 1,400 FULLY NUDE mannequins on Flickr simply using the search for nude AND mannequin. Why do these 1,400 people get to show nude mannequins and James can’t show one with covered nipples? Or check out these mannequins in bras and panties from the Flickr blog.

Part of documenting our world means shooting the things that are around us. Part of documenting culture is defining our culture through images. It disappoints me that mannequins, along with sculpture and paintings in museums, now have seemed to raise the ire of the underlings in the Flickr Censorship Division. Apparently that catchy new Yahoo! tagline about the new Yahoo! being all about you, only applies to you if you don’t take photos of mannequins, you freakin pervert.

James reflects more on his recent predicament on Flickr here pointing out some rather obvious points about mannequins here. (number one being, well, they’re not human) Unfortunately you will need to be logged into Flickr and dig deep into your settings to allow pornographic Flickr material if you’d like to read it. Sigh.

Note to Yahoo! execs, the next time you are thinking about layoffs and cost cutting, might I recommend you take a serious look at gutting as much of the Flickr censorship Division as possible. In addition to their cost (salaries/benefits/etc.) they create enormous negative ill will with your paying customers (like James, who is now considering leaving Flickr) and generate a great deal of negative PR for Yahoo! as well. You really gain nothing by censoring 25,000+ images based on a few relatively harmless images buried deep in a user’s photostream. That’s just common sense.

Update: James has posted on his plight regarding the censorship of his mannequins in the Flickr Help Forum here, Flickr has yet to respond to his post. That asshole Ian Sanderson though is quick to defame my credibility which is an especially cowardly act on his part in a forum where he knows I’m banned.

FOIA Request for Emails Related to the Official Whitehouse Flickr Photostream

I submitted the following Freedom of Information Act request to the White House today via US Mail. I modeled it after another Whitehouse FOIA request that I found online here. I’ve sent two flickrmails now requesting information regarding the Offical Whitehouse photostream on Flickr to the Whitehouse account on Flickr and have received no response. Hopefully the Whitehouse, in the spirit of Obama’s oft-campaigned promise of transparency, will choose to provide the information requested based on this formal written request. I’m writing to try and discover any correspondence that may have taken place around Flickr’s decision to delete user Shepherd Johnson’s Flickr account after he posted comments critical of President Obama on the official Whitehouse photostream.

FOIA Officer Office of Administration
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503

FOIA REQUEST

Fee benefit requested
Fee waiver requested
Expedited processing requested

Dear FOIA Officer:

Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I request access to and copies of:

All email correspondence to and from representatives of the White House and Yahoo, Inc. regarding the establishment, service and maintenance of the Official Whitehouse photostream on Flickr, Yahoo Inc.’s photo sharing service. I would also like to receive the name and contact information of the primary individual responsible for the maintenance of this Flickr account.

The scope of this request is for documents created between January 20 and September 15, 2009.

I would like to receive the information in electronic format.

As a representative of the news media I am only required to pay for the direct cost of duplication after the first 100 pages.

Through this request, I am gathering information on a case of censorship involving the Flickr account deletion of Flickr user Shepherd Johnson who found his Flickr account deleted after posting comments critical of the President on the Official Whitehouse Flickrstream.

I am seeking this information as an independent blogger for dissemination to the general public.

Release of the information is in the public interest because it will contribute significantly to public understanding of the President’s use of social media as a communications strategy as well as how the White House handles critical commentary through social media channels.

I hope that as the President’s office, in the spirit of Obama’s oft-campaigned promise of transparency, will see fit to honor this information request.

If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act. I will also expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material. I, of course, reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any information or to deny a waiver of fees.

As I am making this request as a journalist and this information is of timely value, I would appreciate your communicating with me by telephone, rather than by mail, if you have questions regarding this request.

Please provide expedited processing of this request which concerns a matter of urgency.

I look forward to your reply within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

Thomas Hawk

Flickr User Shepherd Johnson Says Yahoo Security Officer and Former FBI Agent John Zent Threatens to Call Police on Him After Flickr Nuked His Account

Well the bizarre behavior by Flickr/Yahoo over recent customer service and account deletion issues may have just taken a big left turn from wackyland straight into the Twilight Zone. Earlier this week I reported an update on the case of Shepherd Johnson. You’ll remember Johnson as the Flickr user who had his account deleted without warning after posting remarks critical of President Obama on the official Presidential Flickr stream. It’s still not known if pressure from the White House played a role in having Johnson’s account deleted or not, but his account deletion gained widespread attention from both the blogosphere and the mainstream media after Yahoo nuked his entire account and photostream.

According to Johnson, after his account deletion he disconnected from Flickr for almost 3 months, reserved, he said, that nothing would come of his story. After giving more reflection recently to his situation, however, Johnson said that he became disgusted over how Yahoo! Flickr and the Whitehouse had treated him so he decided to try and readdress his account deletion issue with Flickr/Yahoo.

Johnson said that he started out trying to address his account deletion privately with Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ via Flickr mail. Johnson had spoken with Champ earlier last summer and said previously that she’d offered him a free $24.99 gift card so that he could get a new Flickr Pro account after the deletion. According to Johnson, however, this time around Champ promptly blocked his flickr mail messages. He then tried phoning Yahoo’s VP of Global Customer Care, Laura Narducci, using the phone number that she had given him when dealing with his high profile account deletion back in June. Johnson said he left voicemails but that Narducci did not return his calls.

Frustrated at being unable to contact Flickr/Yahoo directly over his account deletion, Shepherd next turned to Flickr’s Help Forum. As I reported on Tuesday, after Johnson posted requesting someone from Flickr/Yahoo contact him, Flickr locked his thread, ironically, telling him that he needed to contact them privately. Johnson started another thread complaining that he had tried to contact them privately with no success and ended up not only having that thread shut down, but being banned from the Flickr Help Forum indefinitely as well. (Note: I’m also indefinitely banned from the Flickr Help Forum. They banned me after referencing an anti-flickr blog in the forum last month). Interestingly, Yahoo employee Zack Sheppard told Johnson that “you are welcome to continue to communicate with us directly,” while locking his thread and booting him from the help forum.

Not willing to simply give up on what he felt was an unjust account deletion with no response from Flickr/Yahoo, Johnson tried again yesterday to contact Yahoo/Flickr over his issue leaving one more voicemail message for Narducci and one more for Champ. Johnson said that his voicemail messages were “not angry, not hostile voicemails, just me stating matter of factly that I wanted this issue resolved.”

And this is where things get weird….

After being totally ignored in his attempts to resolve his account deletion issue with Flickr/Yahoo staff. Johnson says that yesterday he finally did receive a call from someone at Yahoo. Only it wasn’t someone from Flickr’s customer care division at all. it was from someone named John Zent, apparently from Yahoo’s Legal Department’s Risk Management Group. Zent identified himself as a security professional for Yahoo as well as a former FBI Special Agent, Johnson told me. He told me that Zent threatened to have him removed from Flickr for TOS violations as well as have his IP address banned from the site. Zent went on to accuse Johnson of harassment and said that if he did not stop calling Yahoo that he would call the Sunnyvale Police on Johnson. “I was astonished that he had threatened to call the police on a customer who merely had an account dispute which he wanted to have resolved,” said Johnson.
.
While Johnson denies harassing anyone at Yahoo, he did admit to a couple of comments in a post inquiring about what had happened to Champ’s face in a post containing a photograph of her that he felt was unflattering. He said that Zent was “extremely upset” by his comments in this post and brought it up three times with him telling Johnson that his activity on Flickr was being “closely monitored.”

A little digging on Zent would seem to indicate that he indeed actually may be a former FBI agent — although I’m not sure how appropriate it is to be using that status formally against a customer with an account deletion complaint at Yahoo. In fact, it would appear that Zent has quite a colorful past of his own having been charged by a number of sources as being the individual responsible for having Al-Qaeda (I told you this was going to get weird) operative Ali Mohamed released from the Canadian police in 1993 as an FBI Informant. Mohamed was also alleged to have been a “a key planner of the 9/11 plot, and trainer in hijacking,” Apparently another bizarre case related to Zent is that of his daughter’s former boyfriend who was convicted of a triple murder over the killing of his parents for life insurance money. Zent had reportedly testified on the boyfriend’s behalf during the trial.

Johnson says that he is not giving up on his account deletion, which he sees as a free speech issue, just yet. He said he plans to try and contact Narducci again, but that next time he said he’ll leave instructions on where the Sunnyvale police can pick him up. “Yes, my 1st Amendment rights, the issue that this whole thing started over back when I posted comments in the Official Whitehouse Photostream, those rights are that important to me and in an act of civil disobedience I am willing to go to jail for them,” said Johnson.

Interestingly enough, Flickr has repeatedly claimed in the past that they have no way of reactivating customer accounts after deletions. Most recently Flickr staff confirmed this and said that they also were not working on any such feature at present. According to Johnson Zent refuted this claim. “I asked him if Yahoo! could actually turn my account back on to which he replied, “Absolutely!” and then asked and answered his own question, “Will Yahoo! do that? No we will not.” This statement confirms that Heather Champ is a liar when she told me they could not reactivate my Flickr account,” said Johnson.

I contacted both Zent as well as Yahoo PR yesterday to try and get a response on Johnson’s case, but as of yet neither have returned my emails. If/when I hear from them I will post their response.

Update more on this deletion, including additional comments from Shepherd Johnson here. On Reddit here and here.

Update #2: On digg here.

Update #3: Jason Khoury from Yahoo PR just emailed me back the following response from Yahoo on this matter: “It is Yahoo! policy that we don’t discuss members’ accounts and their activity.”

Does Flickr Censor User Content Over Blatantly Fake DMCA Notices?

Does Flickr Censor User Content Over Blatantly Fake DMCA Notices?

Update: When adding an extra letter to last name that Alkhateeb had provided me, I was able to pull up what appears to be another artist who would appear to be claiming the Joker/Obama image as his own creation. The details are still fuzzy and am just basing this update on some Google searches that I’ve found with the new name. I have contacted this artist and am trying to determine if he in fact is the person who filed a DMCA takedown notice with Flickr over this image and if he is claiming the Obama/Joker creation as his own in contrast to previous reports from Alkhateeb and the Los Angeles Times that Alkhateeb is the image’s creator. I’ve also contacted Alkhateeb to discuss the claims of this individual. I will report back when I learn more.

For the past week or so I’ve been reporting on the Flickr Censorship case involving Firas Alkhateeb and his popular Joker/Obama Time Magazine cover. You’ll recall that Alkhateeb had posted his image to his Flickr account, garnered over 20,000 views, along with many comments on the image, saw the image subsequently used with the word “socialism” printed underneath it in Los Angeles and various other cities as street art… and then Flickr nuked his image and all the comments that went along with it.

Many bloggers and news outlets accused Flickr of censorship and political bias in the removal of what was seen by many as a clear fair use parody image critical of the President. The case made the national press and with an EFF attorney adding that Alkhateeb indeed had a very strong fair use defense. After a substantial amount of critical press over the image, Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ finally came out defending Flickr over the issue saying that Alkhateeb’s image had been removed from Flickr due to a “a complete Notice of Infringement as outlined by the DMCA (Digitial Millenium Copyright Act)” In the same breath Champ accused the press and blogosphere of being “makey uppey.” Shortly afterwards, the thread where Flickr users were complaining about this image deletion was shut down by Flickr staff.

Later that day in reporting on the issue The Los Angeles Times asked Champ who had issued the DMCA takedown request and Champ replied that Flickr was not able to give that information out. “I don’t know how this crazy game of telephone got started,” Champ wrote. “I’m not sure how complying with the law has led to the idea that we (the Flickr team) have a particular political agenda.”

Yesterday I reported on PDN’s efforts to get to the bottom of this takedown request. PDN contacted the logical parties who might have objected to this image. Time Magazine (whose logo was incorporated in the image), DC Comics (who would own the rights to the famous Joker image used on the Obama photo) and Platon (the photographer who had taken the original image used by Time). All three parties denied having filed a DMCA takedown notice with Flickr, which lead people to wonder all the more just who the hell *did* file the takedown notice.

While Alkhateeb originally stated that flickr had not told him who filed the request, after looking more closely at the email sent by Flickr he realized that they did in fact list the name of the person who had filed it. At first the way that it was presented was confusing to Alkhateeb and he thought the name that they gave him was a Yahoo representative’s name and not the person filing the report.

So who filed the report?

Well because Alkhateeb is currently working with lawyers on the case he asked me not to publish the name flickr provided him, but Alkhateeb has shared the name with me and after having seen the name, what I can say is that it wasn’t Time, DC Comics or Platon, or any other party with any possible plausible IP interest in this image. In fact, the name that was given is very likely a totally bogus made up name entirely. A google search for the odd name turns up zero results and even a google search for the last name alone turns up zero results for that surname. It’s like someone just typed random characters on a keyboard to make up the name used in the DMCA takedown notice.

The fact that the name filing the DMCA takedown notice would appear to be totally fake leaves one to wonder. Does Flickr just blindly pull down any content when any DMCA request is presented? If so that’s not very reassuring. If, for instance, “Donald Duck” or “Bob Xjibtstruytubopluy” claimed copyright over images in President Obama’s stream, would they simply remove these images as well? Somehow I doubt they would. Or was Flickr staff aware that the takedown request was bogus and instead decided to use it as cover to remove an image that offended their own clear personal and political sensibilities? A few months earlier Flickr nuked an entire account of a user who wrote critical remarks on President Obama’s photostream.

Whatever the case, I do think it is disingenuous at best for flickr to try and hide behind a clearly bogus DMCA notice when dealing with criticism over their decision to remove this image. Many people last week were led to believe by statements by Champ in Flickr’s Help Forum and in the press that Time or DC or the photographer had complained to flickr about the image and Flickr never bothered to clarify about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the stated notice.

Transparency, fairness and a willingness to communicate openly with your community ought to be the hallmark traits of a site that is dependent upon their users for their content. By hiding the illegitimacy of this complaint, Flickr has shown themselves yet again trying to sweep their actions under the rug dismissing negative criticism with half truths. It is ironic that they would accuse the press and blogosphere of being “makey uppey” while in the same breath hiding behind a clearly bogus DMCA request on their own.

So what should Flickr do at this point?

Well, given that the DMCA takedown notice was bogus (and even had it been by an actual interested party Alkhateeb would have had a legitimate fair use to the image) they should apologize to Alkhateeb and restore his image and all of the comments that they nuked along with it.

Of course it is worth pointing out that even though former Flickr Founder and Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield called it a “mistake” for Flickr not to have a mechanism to restore staff deleted content over two years ago that still today Flickr has not built (and is not working on) the ability to restore staff deleted content. So even if Flickr wanted to at this point they couldn’t put Alkhateeb’s image back. While Alkhateeb may be allowed to reupload the image in the future, his original image (along with all of the comments to the image and all of the links to his now dead deleted image) is pretty likely gone for good.

And that’s too bad.

Someone’s Started a Flickr is Fascist Blog, Accuses Flickr of Anti-Gay Censorship Policies

Someone's Started a Flickr is Fascist Blog, Accuses Flickr of Anti-Gay Censorship Policies

Update: I just got banned from the Flickr help forum for posting a link about the new blog there.

I've Been Banned From the Flickr Help Forum

Update #2: the Flickr is Fascist blog has moved to http://saynotoflickr.blogspot.com/

Well it looks like someone’s finally gotten sick and tired enough of Flickr account deletions that they’ve launched a “Flickr is Fascist” blog. And before you ask, no, it wasn’t me.

The blog seems to focus especially on the recent rash of censorship on Flickr dealing with male non-porn gay related photostreams. The new site specifically calls out the fact that flickr censors closed their thread in the help forum entitled “Flickr’s new anti-gay policy” among others.

In addition to the help forum post above being locked by Flickr staff, there have been several recent cases on Flickr where photos showing either non-nude male self portraits, non-nude male models, or photos of men in public have been either recharacterized as “restricted” NIPSA accounts or have been deleted entirely. In one case, a professional photographer who focused on non nude beefcake type male models, Edelson Flores, had his entire photostream deleted with Flickr citing the fact that he was posting other people’s work as their reasoning. Flores has denied that his stream contained photos that were not his and in fact had his own copyright watermark over every photo in his stream.

In a post on the new “Flickr is Fascist” blog they point out specifically what they feel is a double standard when it comes to Flickr’s deletion of candid photos of males in public in the post “Flickr has Issues With the Male Body:

“A community of ‘candid’ photographers of men in public situations (all of whom have paid for their accounts in good faith) has been displaced and silenced on photo-sharing site Flickr in less than a fortnight. Four prominent photostreams as well as countless photos vanished from July 6th 2009 to July 13th 2009 without warning or right to appeal. At least one site had over a million hits in less than a year. Flickr has stubbornly refused to give a reason for its recent axe-grinding mission against these sites, but one user was given the reason ‘voyeur content’ after more than 8 days of asking for a reason yet that particular site contained pictures of men in public which is legal. Flickr has refused to expand on the reason it gave, but cited its ambiguous and open-ended ‘Don’t be creepy’ clause in its Terms of Service asjustification for terminating at least one photostream. Flickr has also silenced debate about the issue on its Help Forum. When confronted with whether or nor the famous Robert Doisineau candid image of the kissing couple in Paris was voyeur content or simply a candid street photo, Flickr immediately closed the thread and banned the user from challenging Flickr’s inability to define ‘voyeur content’ as opposed to candid content. Disturbingly Flickr has refused to reopen the debate. Another thread ‘ Flickr’s new anti-gay policy’ was also closed in a mater of hours. Is it a a coincidence that the many candid men sites were closed within a week? Flickr silent wall of automated e-mails will never let you know.”

It will be interesting to see if this new blog or other public criticism of Flickr’s censorship policies will in fact have any impact on the account deletions that seem to be taking place almost daily on the site.

KGO, KNTV, KABC, KTTV, KTLA = Censorship

Those of you who know me know that I hate censorship in most forms that it takes. I think that free speech is an important part of a free society. While Government censorship is perhaps the worst kind (and certainly folks living in places like China have it a lot worse than we do) I really hate all censorship. The worst censors though, I think, are the ones that employ censorship to censor political speech. So I was especially disappointed to read yesterday about several Bay Area and Los Angeles based TV news outlets refusing to sell air time for a 30 second commercial about the marijuana legalization debate. While I personally support the legalization of marijuana and the tax revenues that such an initiative might bring, I don’t think that is really the issue here. I’d be just as offended if these same media outlets refused to sell advertisement time to opponents of the legalization of marijuana.

Although the media are private companies and are not legally required to remain uncensored, I think it’s very bad form when they actively engage in censorship, especially censorship of this type. I think that when a media outlet is granted the privilege in our society of controlling a large chunk of public attention that they owe it to us all to remain politically neutral when it comes to paid advertisements. The ad that was rejected can be seen above. I’d encourage you to check it out, fave it on YouTube and share it with other people on your blog, on places like Twitter and Friendfeed and in other public forums. The ad is not offensive. It’s an honest attempt by a political organization to present an opinion that now is the time for California to consider legalizing marijuana.

Despite this honest attempt at public discourse though, the media outlets named in the headline of this post, KGO and KNTV in the Bay Area and KABC, KTLA and KTTV (Fox) in Los Angeles have refused the ad above. Interestingly enough several other media outlets including CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, KPIX, KXTV, and KRON are currently running the ad.

Anthony Citrano has also written an insightful post over at The Huffington Post where he give more details about this unfortunate act of media censorship.

eBay’s Hypocritical Censorship

PayPal, eBay and SkypeA number of years back I used to collect Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs CDs. I’m not sure why, but they seemed to be valuable on eBay and so whenever I’d go shopping at Amoeba or someplace and I saw one for sale for cheap in the used CD bin I’d just buy it knowing that it was collectible and worth more money than they were selling it for. I got tired of collecting them after a while and so they sat in the attic for years. Recently my wife and I decided to clean house a bit, get rid of the clutter and start selling off crap that we just don’t need any more and so she’s been putting these old CDs up on eBay and selling them off. They usually go for anywhere from $20 or so to $150 per disc.

Earlier this week she tried to list one of the CDs, Blind Faith’s self titled CD. It’s a pretty famous album but on the cover there’s a photo of a young girl holding a silver space ship without a top on. I certainly wouldn’t consider it child porn. You can see the album cover if you want simply doing a Google Image Search for “Blind Faith” “self titled.”

After listing the CD along with an image of it eBay pulled the listing. She figured it was because of the album cover and so she relisted it, only this time without a photo of the cover and eBay pulled the listing again sending her the following email explanation:

To protect our users, recognizing that images of nude children often raise legal concerns, eBay has made a policy decision that it will not permit the listing of any item that depicts images of nude minors (under 18 years of age).

Now it feels kind of crappy to have eBay calling you a child pornographer. Especially when listing a mainstream rock CD that I’m pretty sure any court in America would rule is not child porn. I think eBay is also entirely hypocritical in their rejection of this item. eBay says that they “will not permit the listing of any item that depicts images of nude minors (under 18 years of age),” and yet if you do a search on eBay for Nirvana’s most famous CD “Nevermind,” you’ll find tons of listings. Isn’t that a naked baby on the album cover? Isn’t that naked baby nude and under the age of 18? What about nativity collectible with a naked baby Jesus in the manger? Isn’t that also depiction of a minor under the age of 18 naked?

eBay needs to learn to relax their censorship here. Not allowing someone to sell Blind Faith’s classic self titled album is just stupid. What’s next? Is eBay going to stop allowing breast pumps to be sold because someone might take a photo of a mother using one that ends up on Facebook?