PR Fail: Flickr Turns Private Photos Public

The way we see it, the three biggest potential PR fails for a social network are service dropouts, unannounced changes in service conditions or privacy breaches. Flickr, the extremely popular photo sharing service owned by Yahoo that is not in any way threatened by the rise of Instagram, is now dealing with every social company’s PR nightmare: due to a software bug, the company unintentionally celebrated its ninth birthday by making thousands of users’ private photos publicly visible for nearly three weeks (while they didn’t appear in Google searches, they were visible to all other users).

Why is this significant? First 0f all, Flickr’s taglines assure users (some of whom pay for the service) that “your photos are safe with us”. The service’s user base also uploads a significant quantity of porn–as one user put it, her account included “a few naughty photos…for friends only” that may have been seen by any of the site’s thousands of users.

Flickr responded by making any “potentially marked” public photos private–which angered users who weren’t involved in the breach but saw their intentionally public pics disappear from the feed. Yahoo released a statement calling the problem “very small” and asserting that it avoided disclosing the issue to the public to avoid a bigger freakout, choosing instead to contact individual users directly.

Are we reconsidering our Flickr accounts now? Should the company have announced its latest problem sooner?