4,000 Photos Accidentally Deleted: Is Your Flickr Account Safe?

BlogHer Original Post

Imagine you are a photographer. You backup your photos via flickr so you can also easily share them on your blog. Now imagine you find someone stealing your work! You report the offending flickr account as you are told to do. You imagine it will be taken care of. Now imagine you attempt to login the next day and find that they deleted your account instead. Sadly, that's what happened to one photoblogger.

Flickr Office - Campus Party BrasilMicro Wilhelm experienced just that. After attempting to login to his five-year-old account, he contacted support and received the following email.

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. Here is what I can do from here:

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.

Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do. Again, I am deeply sorry for this mistake.

Regards,

Flickr staff

Ooops? Obviously -- and quite understandably -- Wilhelm was not exactly pleased. He did what any blogger would do at that point: He blogged. His post title reflects his anger and frustration: "You Have to Be Fucking Kidding, Yahoo!. Even if he has his photos backed up on an external hard drive, he's out a lot of time and effort.

So how can this really compensate losing close to 4000 “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 websites that had linked these images (including some official Yahoo! and Flickr blogs).

I read the news in a kind of jaw-open, eyes-widened horror. I have been on flickr since 2004. I have been a paid member since that time. Last week, I rolled over 31,000 photos on flickr. Yes. 31,000. Only 2,000 of them are currently backed up on any form of hard drive; just the photos from 2010. I do have the year of 2008 on CDs (many of them), but just that single year. And now I'm in a panic.

My wedding photos are scanned and saved on flickr in case a fire rips through my home. Random photos taken when my husband and I were dating, pre-digital-camera-affordable-ness, are scanned and saved there as well. Pictures of each of my kids' sonograms. Photos from ancient, forgotten cell phones. Old family photos of birthdays gone by... and relatives no longer with us. And then all of my photography, from dorky self-portraits to candids of my kids to the point in time when I got serious about my photography. Almost all of the photos on my blog are hosted through flickr, meaning that if my account is deleted, all of my photos are gone.

It's all there. On flickr. Just waiting to be accidentally deleted.

Oh dear.

The good news is that flickr is apparently working on a fix so that, in the event of accidental deletion, photos can be restored. (Why this didn't exist prior to this point is beyond me, but that's beside the point.) A Yahoo! spokesperson made a statement about the matter to the New York Observer.

Yesterday, Flickr inadvertently deleted a member's account. 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 currently working hard to try to restore the contents of this user's account. We are working on a process that would allow us to easily restore deleted accounts and we plan on rolling this functionality out soon.

What does that mean for you as a flickr user?

If you have photos on your flickr account that are not backed up somewhere else, now is the time to make the effort to get them saved somewhere else.

Here are some steps you can follow to do so:

  • Use Bulkr to download your entire photostream, individual sets or collections, or by tag, description and so on. You can only download 500 at a time, but it's the best bulk downloading app out there for retrieving your flickr photos. Sure beats right click, save as, click, click-ing!
  • If you don't have an external hard drive, get one. They are much cheaper than they were even two or three years ago. My 2TB external drive ran me just over $100 in a pre-holiday sale last year.
  • Also consider purchasing an account at a virtual hard drive site like Mozy. Mozy offers automatic backup (while you sleep, as an example) for $5.99/month. Other sites like this exist, but I have experience with Mozy. Though do remember that any time you upload something to a cloud-based server, you run the risk of magic deletion happening. Chris Mellor at The Register likens it to leaving your keys in your car along side the road.
  • Use QOOP, which attaches right to your flickr account, to order a back-up CD or DVD. (I think I'm going this route.) CDs are $14.99 and DVDs are $19.99.
  • Consider the antiquated idea of printing your photos. I know, I know. The environment! You're trying to de-clutter! You are a crazy photographer like me and have 31,000 photos! Try printing your favorites from each month or year. If you have a little extra time, consider making photobooks at sites like Shutterfly, Blurb or others. Then you can have multiple photos in an easy to store format.

I have known for awhile that I was testing the limits of Internet faith by leaving my photos in only one place. Every good digital photographer should be backing up in at least two places. Computer hard drives fail. External hard drives fail. And apparently people can accidentally delete five years worth of your photographic life with the click of a button.

With that in mind, if you have not taken the steps to safeguard your photographic memories, there is no time like the present. I'll be taking the time in the hours after my kids go to bed for the next... bagillion hours... to get my stuff backed up.

Other bloggers are contemplating similar things:

What are your thoughts? Are all of your photos backed up in two places? What steps are you going to take to safeguard your cloud accounts?

Contributing Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and a (currently twitchy) photographer.

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paoletti. | Originally posted at BlogHer.

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