Censr at Flickr20 Jun 2007
I've had my head down in work the past few days, with the old job winding down and the new business starting up. So at first I missed the shitstorm stirred up when Flickr (now owned by Yahoo!) added a German interface, and at the same time forced German users (along with those in Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea) to use SafeSearch, i.e. German users can now only view content considered safe.
German Flickr users were livid about the change, and the more so while it was first unexplained, then a couple of days later jusified with a vague "to comply with German law". Finally a reply from Heather Champ at Flickr revealed that "The central problem is that Germany has much more stringent age verification laws than its neighboring countries and specifies much harsher penalties, including jail time, for those with direct responsibility..."
As Heiko correctly points out, this isn't really censorship. Only governments can censor. Companies control access to their content however they want. But the photos on Flickr do not belong to Flickr or to Yahoo!, but to their users. Yahoo! chose to listen to their lawyers without even talking to their users (and they still aren't). Shelley always warned that with such services, when push comes to shove, the users will get the short end. Now we have a concrete example.
This is interesting on another level. Despite the global reach of the internet, even a global web company can trip over national customs and standards. For one thing, even though German law can be construed to imply that a online photo service faces criminal liability for their content, but in practice it has never happened. For another, given their historical experience with fascism, Germans are extremely sensitive to anything that reeks of control or censorship. And most Germans would consider American standards for decency and pornography to be absurd. Finally, German web sites use a standard for age-control that could easily be applied at Flickr, if necessary. It's called a credit card.
In short, Flickr and Yahoo! have proven themselves unreliable and unworthy of storing personal content, and German bloggers are leaving Flickr in droves. I, too, will be moving my photos elsewhere. Perhaps I will follow Cem's advice and try out the Danish service 23.