UPDATE: Mr. Wilhelm’s 3,410 photos have been restored and Flickr extended his Pro account to 2036. Original post follows.
Major, major stumble from Flickr today—aZurich-based photoblogger says Flickr deleted his account by mistake and lost his 3,400 photos.
Mirco Wilhelm has the original files saved elsewhere, but the photos from his extensive Flickr collection had been linked to from all over the web, including the official Flickr blog. Those links will now point to deadspace. Additionally, the followers he had accumulated, tags, photo captions and copyright information have been wiped out and may not be restored. (Blogger Thomas Hawk points to the Google cache of Mr. Wilhelm’s impressive collection.)
Mr. Wilhelm was shocked when he tried to log into his five-year old Flickr account and was prompted to create a username. Then he remembered a support ticket he had submitted to Flickr a few days before, complaining about another user who had posted photos Mr. Wilhelm suspected were stolen. Had Flickr received his support ticket and deleted the wrong account?
In fact, that’s exactly what happened, and the response from Flickr staff was discouraging and not nearly contrite enough.
After Mr. Wilhelm’s paid Flickr account was permanently deleted, with no recourse for retrieval, Flickr said:
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.
This wasn’t much compensation considering Flickr Pro costs $24.95 per year, and Mr. Wilhelm has already received a year’s worth of Pro through his participation in some events and competitions.
“They cannot reactivate anything more that the account itself, leaving me with an empty shell of what I did during the last 5 years. This would be acceptable, if I had a free account. But since I’m a paying customer, I would expect a bit more than a ‘Again, I am deeply sorry for this mistake,'” he wrote on his blog in a post titled “You have to fucking kidding, Yahoo!” Flickr is owned by Yahoo.
Most services don’t delete active accounts because of dangers like this. Facebook, for example, “deactivates” a user’s account before anonymizing the information after something like two weeks.
This cautionary tale should remind all Flickr users—especially people who rely on the free version of the service—to back up their photos. Despite a growing reliance on cloud storage across industries, negligence or a rookie mistake by a new employee could irreversibly wipe out user data—be it Facebook friends, blog posts or a photographer’s oeurve.
UPDATE: Mr. Wilhelm’s account is still deleted, but Flickr is scrambling to rectify the situation.
Mr. Wilhelm received the following email from Flickr:
I can definitely get you logged back in to your account.
However, we are taking a look to see if there is anything we can do in this particular case to restore your content.
While we investigate this we need the account to not be touched. As soon as I have any further information, I’ll get back to you and will also provide the instructions on how to get you logged back in and the [...]@yahoo.com account re-connected to this Flickr account.
Mr. Wilhelm said Flickr Pro is still the best photosharing platform available—it’s affordable and it gives photographers great exposure and access to a wide community, so it’ll be tough for him to give it up. But he’s understandably upset about the loss of his account and not sure whether he will continue to use the service after this is all over and is considering taking the conflict to court. “I did a quick check of the terms of service, and in my eyes deleting my paid account without any reason or misconduct from my side could be interpreted as a breach of contract,” he wrote in an email. “Deleting the content might even be counted as theft. And since my contract originally was established with Yahoo! Germany I wouldn’t even have to go to court in the US if necessary.
“But first I will wait, [to see] what they can restore and how Yahoo! responds in the next few days. For any further steps I will have to consult with some experts in the matter,” he said.
A Yahoo spokesperson sent The Observer this statement:
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.
Check out some of Mirco Wilhelm’s photos that Flickr accidentally deleted.
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story mistakenly said Mr. Wilhelm had 4,000 photos on his account; it now appears he had 3,410.
ajeffries [at] observer.com | @adrjeffries