Banned from Flickr!

Not me, fortunately.

I got a message yesterday from a Flickr friend saying Flickr had closed his Pro account with no refund. They told him he was in violation of their Community Guidelines for posting “voyeur” pictures.

Their message said:


Voyeur content is a violation of the Flickr Community Guidelines.

# Don’t be creepy.
You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.

Read the following help forum discussion below about the definition of voyeur content on Flickr.


It looks like the subject has been debated endlessly. A few thoughts of my own:

  • I think Guidelines are different from “rules” or “regulations”. Breaching a guideline should not be the cause for instant termination withiut a refund. Flickr says though: “Don’t forget that your use of Flickr is subject to these Guidelines and our Terms of Use.” So in their interpretation a Guideline is the same as a Rule.
  • According to Mirriam-Webster the word “voyeur” means: “ one obtaining sexual gratification from observing unsuspecting individuals who are partly undressed, naked, or engaged in sexual acts.” My friend’s pictures were candid photos of beautiful women on the public street. No undressing, nakedness or sexual acts.
  • The Wikipedia definition here gives a similar definition but goes on to say that “In popular imagination the term is used in a more general sense to refer to someone who habitually observes others without their knowledge, and there is no necessary implication of any sexual interest.” But the article doesn’t cite a reference for this assertion (which is against Wikipedia’s own guidelines. Smile.)
  • My biggest “legal” problem is that Flickr say in their Guidelines “What Not to Do. Here’s the deal: In most circumstances, we like to give second chances, so we’ll send you a warning if you step across any of the lines listed below. Subsequent violations can result in account termination without warning.” As my friend explained it there was no warning or chance to remove or restrict objectionable pictures. If Flickr is not following their own Guidelines I think my friend has cause for compensation. Of course having cause and it being worthwhile to engage an attorney and sue are completely different things.
  • Of course the Guideline he breached is so nebulous: “Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be the guy.” Creepy is an idiomatic term – it has no meaning in law and to a non-native English speaker it may be confusing or meaningless. I wonder how Flickr translates it to other languages? Also, are women never creepy? Does it mean that women do not have to follow the guideline? Surely not. From reading the discussion thread it seems Flickr decided to write idiomatically as the alternative to complex.
  • He said his “account was reviewed as safe by Flickr staff” (just like mine). Of course that was a one time review when he opened the account – but still, it seemed to give him some sense that what he was posting was acceptable. he said he had over 3,000 photos in his account when it was closed.
  • I think Flickr relies on the community to enforce the Guidelines. If someone complains then the customer service people take action. But it does seem that they did not follow their own Guidelines in their enforcement.

I am concerned because I have posted a lot of similar content. It’s stil there but I guess it could go at any time. Fortunately I am too kee-niaw (Thai for tight-fisted) to pay for an account so I won’t lose any money.

But I also thought – what if the world was different? What if 50-something Western men were considered subjects for candid photography and posting on Flickr. (I have not looked but I am convinced there are no Flickr groups called anything like “Farang Men in Bangkok” whereas there are so many around tghe theme of “Street Photography”, “Asian Girl Next Door” and my favourite “Thai Students”).

How would I feel if a photo of me showed up on Flickr without my knowledge?

Maybe I’d be a bit pissed off and complain.

We live in an ultra-sensitive time, especially in the US and Europe. People are more concerned about their privacy than ever before.

I believe that in Thailand people are less concerned (sophisticated?) I get many requests for photos from stranges in the street. People here thank me for taking their photo without asking what I’ll do with it.

“I should be thanking you!”.

When I post pictures I try to post pictures that are flattering to the girl and omit those few where she is clearly annoyed at the intrusion. Maybe 10% of them are the opposite – cheery waves, big smiles and the like.

I am wondering if I should

  1. Delete all my “candid” content apart from that where the subject clearly welcomes the photograph. (In which case it isn’t candid).
  2. Delete all candid content where the subject can be identified.
  3. Retain the candid content but label it “friends and family” and not post it to any groups. (Group posting ignores those flags). That should eliminate any complaints as people opt-in to see that type of photo. Notwithstanding professional complainers, however.
  4. Be Thai: don’t think too much. (But if somebody complains about my photos and Flickr deletes my account without warning then it will be too late.)

What do you think?



Maybe Not OK

Victory Monument Bangkok


Tags: , , , ,

18 Responses to “Banned from Flickr!”

  1. fonktok69 Says:

    Thanks Ian,

    I think I’ll start a “Farang Men in Bangkok” group!


  2. bkkphotographer Says:

    Good idea. Maybe call it “Couture de Sukhumvit Road”. You know: t-shirt with an obscene slogan, camo pattern cargo shorts, sandals – dark socks optional. Extra points for days of stubble.

    That will surely excite the ladies. Then we can object and have then banned.

  3. Toucanzoo Says:

    Ian, Can you e-mail me please.
    I need some help with a number plate.


  4. fonktok69 Says:

    Why did Flickr delete my page?

    I started the page mainly because in the morning, I like to have coffee and take a few photos of passing tuk tuks, vendor carts, automobiles and people. Coincidentally, they’re are literally millions of pretty women here in Bangkok who wander by along with the rest of the parade.

    From what I now understand, in doing so, I violated the “community guidelines” for being “a creepy guy” who takes “voyeur” photos.

    Most likely, somebody flagged one or more of my photos because they did not like the “candid” women’s fashion theme, or possibly even some of my individual photos.

    I’d read about others being deleted, but my page was always rated as “safe” by Flickr. Ironically, I think it was the enormous interest by Flickr members, (over 1.3 million total views in a little over 8 months), that proved to be very seductive for me to continue.

    It would have been nice to have received a warning first from Flickr. But it appears, after reading the referenced discussion thread and others, that some people have very strong opinions about candid shots of women being solely for “sexual gratification.” Also, Flickr targets “voyeur” shots.

    At the closure of the thread, the flickr staff conclusion was:

    “So if people would like to step up and defend the practice of secretly photographing women (and men, and children) and posting them to Flickr for the purposes of sexual gratification, and explain why that should be allowed on Flickr, or even why that shouldn’t be considered “creepy”, then please, the floor is yours. This is pretty much the definition of what we consider to be “voyeur content” on Flickr.”

    I enjoy interacting with the flickr “community.” I’d like to think that I use my camera to share one aspect of the human beauty I see everyday with that community. By the way, I never “hide” when I’m taking pictures, neither do I stand right in front of people with the camera in their face.

    I think that the social “PC-ness” for things like this are subjectively different depending on where one lives. I’ve spoken with a number of Thai women about my photos and most think it’s “OK” as long as they “look good.” In Bangkok, when someone is referred to as being “sexy” it is considered a compliment and not a derogatory remark.

    I started a new Flickr “fashion” page but at this point, though, I am hesitant to put too much effort into it.

  5. bkkphotographer Says:

    Where do you think you went wrong and what can be done to correct it? For surely I am in the same boat and it’s pure luck I was not targeted in the same way.

    Regarding the quote:

    “So if people would like to step up and defend the practice of secretly photographing women (and men, and children) and posting them to Flickr for the purposes of sexual gratification, and explain why that should be allowed on Flickr, or even why that shouldn’t be considered “creepy”, then please, the floor is yours. This is pretty much the definition of what we consider to be “voyeur content” on Flickr.”

    The key phrase is “for the purposes of sexual gratification”. It is illogical and prejudiced to assert that every candid photograph of a clothed human being is taken because the photographer seeks masturbation material. If I had known about the thread at the time it was open I would have made that point most strongly. The assumption behind the statement is unwarranted.

    You are interested in fashion. Millions of people are: it is a huge worldwide industry. I am sure designers from Paris and NY often look at candid “street” photos of cities like Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul and Tapei for inspiration. I expect Flickr is a resource for them – it saves on travel.

    For myself, I love beautiful women and pictures thereof, but to tar that with the same brush as a creepy guy getting sexual satisfaction from such pictures is insulting. As I said before, many (not all) women here delight in the attention – they dress up and make-up every day to encourage attention and they feel good when they are noticed.

    I was almost mobbed by a group of students in Rattanakosin last week. They all wanted pictures. Once one had one taken they all wanted to join in. Sanuk while waiting for the bus home. It’s not that I am a handsome hunk – far from it. But I am friendly, open, carry a big camera and my Thai is so atrocious it makes them laugh.

    I wonder why some feel it necessary to complain on their behalf?

  6. leosia Says:

    I think this is a major problem for Flickr – and possibly a reason why they will not grow in the future. If you look at Heather’s rather rude comments, ending with “This is pretty much the definition of what we consider to be “voyeur content” on Flickr. I think we’re done.” And then “This thread has been closed by Flickr Staff.”

    This pretty much sums up Flickr’s attitude towards it’s customers. Most photojournalism is candid photography in the sense that the subjects are unaware they are being photographed – these normally make for the best photographs. So are these examples of what Heather would consider posting for sexual gratification? Very weird.

    Flickr constantly shut down individual accounts with no warning, no communication. This is the reason I did not renew my Pro membership. There’s no point.

    My Flickr group, full of photos of people who were unaware they were being photographed:

  7. BKKPhotographer Says:

    I think Flickr has a whole load of business problems and this is a tiny, tiny blip.

    Here I think they have a management problem that they allow individual customer service people to make arbitrary decisions without keeping to their own published guidelines (rules). If a complaint comes in the easy course is to delete the complained-about account and not allow any appeal.

    Flickr is a bit like Pattaya. It’s trying to clean up its image to be a family friendly resort but it’s got a certain reputation that is hard to leave behind.

  8. BKKPhotographer Says:

    See about a bigger mess Flickr got itself into deleting a picture without sufficient thought.

    Who said that publicity is the best disinfectant?

  9. Gadget Makers Can Find Thief, but Don’t Ask – « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] See the hassle Flickr got itself into when trying to comply with a DMCA takedown request. This issue is interesting because it seems to show how hasty Flickr can be in responding to complaints. Where have I seen this before? Here. […]

  10. HP App Studio « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] a porn site wanted to offer an app that makes it easy to print high quality, shall we say  “voyeur images” (smile) for a price? Would HP let them into their app […]

  11. Hasty Flickr « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] Looks like Flickr has a habit of acting first and thinking later. See here. […]

  12. Flickr Out of Control? | Your Photo Tips Says:

    […] Banned from Flickr! […]

  13. BKKPhotographer Says:

    Here’s a discussion about Flickr’s policies that quotes many blogs posting on the subject of heavy handed banning by Flickr staff.

    I weighed in with my two-cents worth.

  14. Linking to a Flickr Photo « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] use Option 1 or you’ll be out of compliance with the Flickr Community Guidelines. Remember, Flickr can ban you for not following them – they are more Rules than Guidelines. So why show Option 2 and tempt […]

  15. BKKPhotographer Says:

    Here’s another “funny” story on Flickr banning: and a followup at

    I suspect Flickr has a “watch list” of accounts they have banned. They know it is easy to establish a new account. They don’t want the same “creepy” stuff re-appearing.

  16. BKKPhotographer Says:

    Thomas Hawk’s blog is very popular.

  17. BKKPhotographer Says:

    “No matter how much we rely on them to get on with our everyday lives, access to online services — like email, social networking sites, and (wait for it) online gaming — can never be guaranteed. … he who writes the TOS makes the rules, and when it comes to enforcing them, the service provider often behaves as though it is also the judge, jury and executioner. … While the mass ban provides a useful illustration of their danger, these terms can be found in nearly all TOS agreements for all kinds of services. There have been virtually no legal challenges to these kinds of arbitrary termination clauses, but we imagine this will be a growth area for lawyers.”

  18. All Questions Answered « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] I photographed a car in Bangkok that I didn’t recognise. It had a badge on the boot (trunk) that I misread and became confused. I thought it was an Opel “Calera” or “Galera”. There’s no such thing. I posted the photo to Flickr and within a couple of hours somebody told me what I should have known anyway: it’s an Opel Calibra. That’s why I like Flickr despite their misguided policies about “voyeurs” and so on. See here and especially here. […]

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