Flickr’s Big Change Proves You Can’t Trust Online Services

Here’s a scary warning for anyone who puts their photos in the cloud.

I Need a Digital Moving Van

I have 60 days to relocate more than 2,100 images from their home on Flickr to another safe digital haven. The once popular photo-sharing destination announced this month that it’s limiting free membership accounts to just 1,000 images. If you want unlimited storage, you’ll have to pay $50 a year. Don’t pay up? The service will delete old photographs until you’re at the 1,000-image limit.

I already pay almost $40 a year for iCloud storage and another $99 a year for the 1 Terabyte (TB) of space that comes with my Office 365 account. I’ll skip the extra bill.

Some might call me cheap, but Flickr’s policy change highlights a larger concern for anyone storing their files on someone else’s servers, i.e. the cloud. What you understand and trust about their terms of service could change at any time. Free now — looking at you Google Photos — might not mean forever. The uncertainty around the future is reason to reevaluate the services you use in the present.

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Two years ago, Flickr’s former parent Yahoo, the once powerful online giant, agreed to a $5 billion acquisition deal with Verizon. It now lives alongside another online cautionary tale, AOL, which was acquired by Verizon in 2015.

The telecom giant has spent months consolidating and cleaning house, which included quietly selling Flickr to the photo-sharing tchotchke company SmugMug. It’s a testament to how things have changed for Flickr, once the yardstick for all digital image activities. Flickr was how we first understood the meteoric rise of smartphone photography. It was the original Instagram, the place we shared and commented on photos.

Ironically, even as one of the most popular cameras used on Flickr became “iPhone,” Flickr, like much of Yahoo, failed to ride the mobile wave. Today, it’s a destination for those who care deeply about the craft of photography, excellent NASA images, and royalty-free images via Creative Commons. According to one report, the service still has 90 million monthly active users across 63 countries.