It seems that the popular photo sharing service Flickr inadvertently made an unknown number of its users' private images viewable to the public.
According to a story on The Verge, a software bug caused the issue that made images marked private visible when browsing some users' photostreams between January 18 and February 7. Only images uploaded between April and December of 2012 were in danger of being exposed.
Flickr vice president Barry Wayn used a Flickr help forum thread to assuage concerns:
"Only a small number of Flickr users were impacted, and we are in the process of directly contacting those individuals. This is not a widespread nor an ongoing issue — the software bug has been identified and fixed."
Flickr photographers are sharing their frustrations via the same thread, as concerns emerge not just over privacy, but also the broken links and embeds on other websites that may have been affected.
Some users posted the message Flickr sent them regarding the matter, which warns those affected they may need to adjust their image settings further following the snafu:
"Protecting your privacy is one of our highest priorities so, when we discovered the bug, we took the added precaution of setting any potentially impacted photos in your account to 'private.' When a photo is set to 'private,' links and embeds on other websites will no longer work. This means you may have photos you intended to share with others that you may need to adjust the settings on."
Flickr's privacy setting faux pas has us wondering: Are images shared via the web ever really private?
Numerous photo sharing sites and apps offer reassurance that images can be shared privately or will even "self-destruct" after a matter of seconds, á la Snapchat or Facebook's Poke app. The KeepSafe app also promises to hide some of the photos and text messages on your smartphone so you can still show off your vacation snaps at work while excluding racier images, and hide your more secret conversations from prying eyes. But what happens when the software code can't perform as promised, such as in Flickr's case?
Such image privacy technology will always pose some risk, including user error: we recommend never trusting that anything you share on the web is 100 percent secure.
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