Flickr curtails German photo sharing

Flickr limits German-speaking users to seeing only photos marked "safe" to comply with German law, but hopes to fix the situation soon.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Flickr just found a downside to adding support for seven languages to its photo-sharing site: limits on photo sharing and resulting accusations of censorship.

a Flickr protest image
A Flickr protest image Flickr

Flickr launched sites in seven languages Wednesday, expanding beyond just English. But because of a German law, the company decided it had to restrict the photos German members could see to those that had been marked "safe" by members using Flickr's filtering ability that arrived in March. That restriction triggered a forum discussion thread, "Flickr now censoring all moderate and restricted photos from Germany," and an "Against Censorship at Flickr" group.

According to a posting by Flickr staff member Heather Powazek Champ, Flickr had hoped to find a way around a general safe-image restriction for Germans, but "the solutions did not come together."

"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," she said. "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," namely Flickr's German office staff.

But Flickr members are still outraged. In the words of user "Remmy1," one comment among the thousands on the subject, "Instead of investing money to solve the issue technically--as so many other companies that are doing business in Germany have obviously done--they are limiting a whole nation (not to forget our affected friends in Austria and Switzerland)."

Flickr hopes to fix things soon, Powazek Champ said.

"We're not perfect (as much as we'd like to be), but everyone on the team is resourceful, fair-minded and determined to find the solution to this," she said.

Meanwhile, she urged Flickr members to trust the company to do the right thing. "We've made and admitted to a couple of big mistakes lately, and as many of you have commented, we should have handled this issue differently. Believe me when I say that we'd rather not make mistakes in the first place, but when we do, take hope in the fact that we always listen, always respond, and often change the system as a direct result of your input," Powazek Champ said.

Flickr founder and general manager Stewart Butterfield has publicly apologized for two mistakes. In the first, Flickr deleted a picture by Icelandic photographer Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir. She said the photo was being sold without her permission by an unaffiliated company, and discussion about the matter had grown heated, leading Flickr to delete the photo.

"The photo was deleted--again, mistakenly--because of the direction the comments had gone, which included posting the personal information of the infringing company's owner and suggestions for how best to exact revenge. It is an emotional issue and most people were there to support Rebekka in a positive way, but some of the angry mob behavior crossed the line," Butterfield said in a forum posting. "There are several policies which will be changing as a direct result of this incident and the goal is that nothing like this ever happens again."

The second incident involved restrictions on photos from sex writer Violet Blue. Butterfield apologized in that case as well, and the company removed most of the restrictions.

Setting appropriate and legal publishing restrictions is a common issue on the Internet, which connects so many vastly different people. As Flickr's Powazek Champ said, "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."

And Flickr has been on the receiving end of censorship actions. Flickr images are being blocked in China, Butterfield has said.

Via Zooomr Chief Executive Thomas Hawk.