18 June 2008

Thing 4: Not Quite Done


I realize I am starting to sound like a professional skeptic on these pages, but I cannot help viewing Flickr with deep suspicion -- and not just because its name bears a strong resemblance to one of the Green Lantern's villains. Thing 4, which I am lurching back to after a brief dabble with Things ahead of my time, is all about online photo-sharing and tagging. You can join groups, too. To Flickr enthusiasts, it's like we're all at a family picnic, checking out the photo albums.

Except that your average family doesn't have millions of people eating potato salad, and it never occurred to Aunt Mabel that she might want to protect the privacy of Baby Sissy before she passed her picture around the picnic table. But Flickr, according to the Web site, had more than 4,200 photos uploaded to it in the minute before I typed this. That's a lot of pictures, and a lot of people looking at them.

Full disclosure: A good friend of my family nearly went to jail about 10 years ago when an overzealous photo-processing guy mistook a photo of her grade-school daughter in the bathtub for something much less innocuous than it really, truly was. My friend lost her job, which was driving a school bus, and spent more than a year and a lot of money she didn't have defending herself in court. That was in the quaint days of film and paper. Now imagine the living hell she and her daughter might have gone through if her photos were "processed" up in the sky, as they are for so many nowadays.

Apparently things on Flickr get labeled "public" by default. The Washington Post reported in February 2008, in an article titled "Online Photos Not as Private as Mother Assumed," that a D.C. mother's photos of her skinny-dipping children, which she intended just for her and her parents to see, instead got thousands of hits from strangers.

"Are creepy people searching through thousands of pictures looking for random naked ones?" this mother asked the reporter. Uh, yes. It's the Internet, lady.

And for those of you who are wondering if I'm blathering on about privacy because I forgot to bring in a digital camera to fulfill the actual terms of Thing 4, you're right. More tomorrow, and hopefully more to the point.

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