Flickr Commons and Facial Recognition

Comments on @angeldan’s Flickr post reacting to the NYTimes article on Flickr Commons photos being used to train facial recognition software and the initial reaction of how dare they use our photos for this?

FWIW, it was Yahoo that did this, and they no longer own Flickr.

Also, if they only used photos that were licensed for creative commons or commercial use…well, that’s what those licenses are for, right? Pre-emptively giving others permission to use the work under specific terms without them having to ask?

A. The thing is, you have to make an effort to choose a Creative Commons license for your photos. And the licenses are short, and go out of their way to explain what they do. It’s not the default, and it’s not 40 pages of legalese that you’re required to click through just to use the service. Now, if Yahoo used photos that *weren’t* licensed to allow reuse, then that’s another story.

More concerning, IMO, is whether the *subjects* of the photos would have agreed to this use. Not an issue with identifying trees, birds, cars, etc. – the original Flickr Commons collection wasn’t specific to people – but definitely an issue with the face recognition projects, and that’s where things like the Illinois biometrics law come in.

B. Yeah, the uses that the tech has been put to are in many cases creepy, unethical, and dangerous. That’s always a problem with tech. We often don’t anticipate the ways people will abuse it, and that’s something that we need to do more of. That’s a *huge* discussion in the tech world right now, and one that needs to be examined more closely, from as many angles as possible.

But is this *Flickr’s* breach of trust?
1. It was Flickr’s former parent company that made the original collection, using images that users had specifically assigned creative commons licenses.
2. It was a team at the University of Washington that narrowed it down to the images of faces, created the MegaFace dataset, and encouraged groups building facial recognition technology to use it for training and testing.
3. It’s still other companies that have been actually using the tech.

Flickr is partly back after a day of planned downtime to move out of Yahoo’s datacenter…

#Flickr is partly back after a day of planned downtime to move out of Yahoo’s datacenter.

For the downtime, they encouraged people to print out the #panda from the maintenance page and take photos of it off having adventures.

I went a bit overboard and put together 12 pictures of the panda exploring plants, hiding behind a crosswalk button, slipping near a caution sign, etc. I plan on posting this shot once uploads are working. The rest are on my blog at


Paper panda next to an INITECH coffee mug.

On Photog.Social

The Adventures of the Flickr Panda

On Twitter

This is amusing. SmugMug has been slowly disentangling Flickr from Yahoo…

This is amusing.

SmugMug has been slowly disentangling #Flickr from Yahoo over the last few months, and they have planned downtime coming up in a few weeks to finish migrating a gazillion photos and videos from Yahoo’s datacenter to AWS.

The funny part: They’re doing a photo contest where you print out the maintenance notice and “take your photo of the little panda on an adventure somewhere,” then post it after the site comes back.

On Photog.Social

This is promising: SmugMug has bought Flickr & plans to “maintain Flickr as a standalone community…”

This is promising: SmugMug has bought Flickr & plans to “maintain Flickr as a standalone community of amateur and professional photographers and give the long neglected service the focus and resources it deserves.” (quote from article)

Now I don’t have to worry about Verizon shutting it down!

Exclusive: Flickr bought by SmugMug, which vows to revitalize the photo service

On Photog.Social

And the Flickr Q&A

On Photog.Social