Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Auf Wiedersehen? flickr

Auf Wiedersehen? flickr
Originally uploaded by lorenzodom

Auf Wiedersehen? flickr

I’ve noticed that some of our brethren from der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (the Federal Republic of Germany) are beginning to say goodbye to flickr in protest to the “censorship” that has been imposed abroad in an attempt by parent company Yahoo! to abide by German governmental regulations.

Seemingly, according to Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection blog, others outside of Germany are taking similar actions.

That’s a shame. One of the things I love about flickr is that it allows people to interact and share images and words with people from all over the world. I’d hate to think that suddenly we won’t be seeing as much participation from our brothers and sisters in Germany based on differences of opinion over this issue.

Let me back up for a moment, for those of you who may not be aware of the general issue at hand. The Register in the UK provides a good summary:

“While in most countries the photo sharing site's "SafeSearch" function can be turned off by users interested in seeing all the photos available on Flickr, that option has been axed in Germany due to "stricter legislation and penalties in that country", parent company Yahoo! said in a statement.

Yahoo! says it isn't about censorship and that it is trying to improve the use of filters while still complying with German law.

The limitations were introduced because German law requires websites to verify that visitors are old enough to see potentially sensitive content, such as erotic photos.”


That said, albeit I am all for freedom of speech, individual expression, and blogs, I am also aware that sometimes the necessities of business can take precedence over the desires of users, clients and customers, especially if they are a minute minority of a 8 million + base of constituents.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning nor condemning flickr (Yahoo!) or its critics in any way; I’m simply not prepared or qualified to pass any judgments.

However, I am fairly experienced in the world of business. Thus, I am rather familiar with business law and how it is applied, negotiated and interpreted when it comes to contracts, many of which I’ve been involved with for a Fortune 100 company over the last 8 years. Moreover, I received a masters in international affairs with a concentration in international public law from Columbia University, so I am familiar with the intricate and sticky web that companies must traverse when dealing with the laws, regulations and politics that govern foreign sovereignties. It is far more complicated than it may seem.

Which is why it may seem that flickr has made an unnecessarily brash decision. However, sometimes the long-term viability, profitability and good standing of a company with nation-states must take precedence over individual participants (at least for a while, at least until a solution can be found to satisfy all the disaffected).

Personally, I’d like to hope that this controversial restriction is merely temporary and that flickr will now act a little faster to implement a solution that allows German users to verify their age and in turn have unlimited access to all content.

However-however, once again, in addition to my aforementioned business acumen and understanding, I also happen to work for the IT shop of the company, the information technology division that is responsible for implementing and maintaining systems, applications and computing devices. Hence, I well know that changes are far easier asked for than done.

In turn, my minor defense of flickr in this regard. For implementing a technical change within this very intricate, feature-rich and highly satisfying (i.e. ego-boosting, self-reaffirming) application can be a rather daunting feat, especially when the company is taking heat for implementing a regulatory change deemed requisite by the business and legal ends of the enterprise.

If you’ve never worked for a large corporation you just can’t imagine what you have to go through to make simple changes—form after form, approval upon approval, the list goes on, and on. Trust me, its not easy and often extremely frustrating—and that’s coming from the inside; trying to make changes from the outside is a whole different story.

So, once again, although I’m not necessarily rallying for either side of this dispute, I do think it is vital to understand the issue from both sides. And even though I have not been able to send flickrmail for almost two months and I’m paying for this service with Terms of Service that state that I should have access to this feature, I’d still like to dole out a little sympathy and understanding to the flickr staff and management nonetheless.

That said, I’m also sympathetic to German flickr users, as well as those in China and the United Arab Emirates who face similar restrictions. Personally, I hope that these constituents not only continue to act and express their dissatisfactions and opinions, but that they also employ a little more patience, for sometimes it takes a lot of time to move and change a behemoth like the Bundesländer or one-eyed giants like flickr.

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