More Censorship Charges for Flickr, This Time From Germany

Flickr = Censorship

[I’m CEO of Zooomr]

Flickr: Discussing Deutsch und mit Zensur – Das nennt man Verbesserung! Nicht mit uns! in Keine Zensur!!! Received an email today from a reader alerting me to the apparent lack of ability for Flickr users to turn off “safe search” when using Flickr in Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong or Korea.

I don’t speak German, so I’m not sure on what the thread linked actually means, and these are only allegations at this point. I have no idea if these allegations are really true or not. Still, it seems unfortunate that Flickr continues to build a reputation and a brand so tied to the idea of censorship. In the past month in addition to charges of censorship being leveled at Flickr from some of their biggest users, stories on censorship at Flickr have appeared widely on the internet from digg to Slashdot to Forbes to the BBC. Ironic especially in light of the fact that Flickr themselves have found themselves on the other side of a censorship issue having their own site censored in China. I guess helping to put that Chinese journalist in jail didn’t help them out as much as they would have hoped.

Twice in the past month Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield himself has written apologies to prominent Flickr users who have found themselves censored. Many non prominent Flickr users who have not received apologies continue to post about censorship on Flickr as well.

To be fair, running a photo sharing site is not easy, that’s for sure. And especially as Flickr spends the next 6 months or so trying to add another 2 billion photos from non-Flickr users accounts from Yahoo Photos, moderation of what is shown on the site will increasingly become a factor.

And also again to reiterate. I have *no idea* if it is true that Germans can’t turn off safe search. It just seems though that a lot of Germans are upset about this this morning. I, no doubt, will likely be attacked by non-disclosing anonymous Yahoo IP comments simply for pointing this out though.

Story on digg here.

More from Slashdot.

Update: Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield has formally responded to the allegations of censoring Flickr in Germany:

We really apologize for the delay in responding to these threads. The whole Flickr team has been in ongoing discussions, trying to hammer out a solution.

We have absolutely no intention of censoring the content on the community’s behalf. It is always been our intention that Flickr members participate to whatever extent they want and are as free as possible create their own experience. Currently, switching the SafeSearch function off is not available for German members. It is a really complex situation — we have been in deliberation on this for a while, and we had to make the decision whether or not to leave Germany and the German language out of the international launch.

The decision came down to the wire, but we decided to include Germany. We’re still hoping that that was the right decision. It definitely was not a decision that was made lightly and there is no intention to annoy, frustrate or inconvenience Flickr members in Germany. Rest assured, we do hear you loud and clearly (painfully loud, even) and are doing our best. We hope to have more to say soon.

Update #2: Again, I don’t read German, but coverage from Spiegel, Europe’s largest magazine.

18 Replies to “More Censorship Charges for Flickr, This Time From Germany”

  1. ya its true! i can’t change anything and i can’t flag any photo as offensive. i can’t do nothing and i am pissed!!

  2. yes it is true. Users from Germany even cannot see their own non-safe pictures. Oh and your picture is unavailable at flickr…

  3. Flickr is a photo sharing site, not a political site. I just don’t get what all this censorship talk is about. I see if you want a blog, you can talk about what ever you want. Flickr is just that… a photo sharing site.

    Maybe I am wrong but that is how I see it.

  4. Hooray Thomas, yet another post putting the knife into flickr. Can’t resist can you?

    Wait and see when zoomr gets more than 10 users and see how you deal with community issues.

    I bet you copy flickr.

  5. From the Flickr TOS:

    Note: If your Yahoo! ID is based in Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong or Korea you will only be able to view safe content based on your local Terms of Service so wont be able to turn SafeSearch off.

  6. Just deleted my comment postulating that it was a bug. Apparently, this is the new policy. That’s too bad really, does anyone know why Flickr has done this?

  7. I agree with what Paul said, “Flickr is a photo sharing site, not a political site” but to me that means people can post pictures of whatever they like. If it *was* a political site then you’d expect censorship but since it’s just a photo sharing site people’s photos shouldn’t be put through the wringer like this.

    Moderation is a very tough subject though and I don’t envy Flickr on this one. The larger your user base the lower the common denominator of what people consider “acceptable”. Pictures that would make me yawn could probably get other’s blood boiling.

    That being said Flickr’s system for moderation is very poor. A photo should be rated as “may offend because:” and then you should be able to easily and quickly get to the photo if you aren’t as sensitive as some people seem to be. Instead of the “This photo is unavailable” it should say “This photo may singe your eyebrows off because it contains female breasts, click here if you can handle it”. The heavy handed approach flickr has been taking is going to cost them in the end or turn them into nothing more than a collection of pictures of a church bake sale.

  8. “Note: If your Yahoo! ID is based in Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong or Korea you will only be able to view safe content based on your local Terms of Service so wont be able to turn SafeSearch off.”

    That tells you right there that’s a local regulatory issue and not a Flickr descision to single out German (or other) users for censorship.

    Germany is somewhat notorious for censorship (as compared to other western countries).

    Nothing to see here.

  9. to Anonymous: the German constitution guarantees NO censorship (paragraph 5). There *is* actual censorship when it comes to Nazi symbols, for obvious historical reasons, but that’s about it. Notorious? There are states in the US where oral sex is still illegal… the photos which are flagged moderate or restricted are by no means censored or probibited by German law.

  10. I agree with Petra on Germany’s reputation for censorship — if anything Germany is far more tolerant than most of its European neighbors even (with the possible exception of countries to its north). It looks like Flickr will have more to say on this later, but I’ll bet it does have something to do with Germany’s strong anti-Nazi/anti-hate laws.

  11. Not all German users are having this issue – I assume mine as well as others url is “old” enough to fall out of the system.

    And yes, while there are some laws against display of special symbols, nudity or better what an american audience considers to be nudity is not.

  12. Regarding German Censorship –

    I seem to recall Germany outright banning certain violent video games (and not just ones with Nazi imagery).

    Am I mistaken?

  13. “In Germany, video games, as with other media, are subject to censorship, or “decency standards”, that are strict by the standards of other European nations”



    Not saying this is necessarily true but it does seem to represent what I’ve personally heard anecdotally over the past few years.

    A search on google about German video game censorship seems to also reflect this.

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