Flickr wipes out wrong account--then reconstitutes it

What was unseen can be seen again: Flickr is reconstituting a Flickr user's inadvertently deleted 4,000-photo account. And a new system will make account restoration easier.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Mirco Wilhelm's photo account is back on Flickr after it was inadvertently deleted.
Mirco Wilhelm's photo account is back on Flickr after it was inadvertently deleted. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Flickr accidentally deleted a member's account--comments, favorites, and thousands of photos--but now has given the photographer a 25-year Pro-level subscription and all his photos back.

And more importantly for others who fear the same might happen to them, Flickr is working to update its system to prevent such a mistake from happening again and to make such draconian moves easier to reverse.

Mirco Wilhelm described his dismay yesterday to find that 5 years of activity and about 4,000 photos were wiped out when his account vanished. Perplexed, he realized it might be connected to an abuse report he made, and sure enough, a Flickr representative told Wilhelm that his account, not the abuser's, was inadvertently deleted:

Unfortunately, I have mixed up the accounts and accidentally deleted yours. I am terribly sorry for this grave error and hope that this mistake can be reconciled...I can restore your account, although we will not be able to retrieve your photos. I know that there is a lot of history on your account--again, please accept my apology for my negligence. Once I restore your account, I will add four years of free Pro to make up for my error.

Four years of a Pro account costs $100, but that wasn't Wilhelm's concern. On top of the time it would take to try to reconstitute his account, there was the issue of why it was deleted in the first place.

How can this really compensate losing close to 4,000 "linked" pictures from my Web albums? I have to recreate most of these links manually, which will take weeks, if not months, of my free time! Not to mention, external Web sites that had linked these images (including some official Yahoo! and Flickr blogs).

In my day job I actually work as an IT architect. I do designs on complex infrastructures, delivery processes, and related stuff. Going from an active account to a deleted account is pretty much a NO-GO in any enterprise environment, because of these consequences. If you do something wrong your can't undo it again, without recreating every single setting from scratch.

That's why it's VERY common to first "DEACTIVATE" accounts and repeat an evaluation...

Since Flickr had deleted the account an(d) all the related object(s), they cannot reactivate anything more that the account itself, leaving me with an empty shell of what I did during the last 5 years.

Added photographer Thomas Hawk, who's often been critical of Flickr, "It would be very easy for Yahoo to simply code accounts as private for one week prior to permanent deletion in order to avoid these sorts of unfortunate mistakes."

Well, it turns out that Flickr can do something more, because Wilhelm's Flickr account isn't empty anymore. It's not clear how fully restored it is thus far--there are certainly hundreds, organized in sets, collections, and groups, and including comments and favorites. But it is clear that the Yahoo photo-sharing site is making some progress in building a less draconian method of deleting accounts.

Here's what Flickr had to say about the incident:

Yesterday, Flickr mistakenly deleted a member's account due to human error. Flickr takes user trust very seriously and we, like our users, take great pride in being able to take, post, and share photos. Our teams are in touch with the member and are currently working hard to try to restore the contents of his account. In addition, we are providing the member with 25 years of free Flickr Pro membership. We are also actively working on a process that will allow us to easily restore deleted accounts and will roll this functionality out soon.

The resurrected account came as a surprise to some who'd seen Flickr disappearances in the past.

"Your reincarnation is a helluva interesting development in the world of Flickr nukings," remarked Flickr user Almond Butterscotch today in a comment on one of Wilhem's photos.

Update 2:13 a.m. PT February 3: The restoration is complete. Flickr said in an update:

Yahoo is pleased to share that the Flickr team has fully restored a member's account that was mistakenly deleted yesterday. We regret the human error that led to the mistake and have worked hard to rectify the situation, including reloading the entire photo portfolio and providing the member with 25 years of free Flickr Pro membership.