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Flickr Filtering

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Yesterday Flickr introduced a new feature on their service called "Filtering." Filtering is a tool whereby users can designate their desired level of browsing (i.e. show me everything on Flickr un-filtered, or screen out material that has been tagged inappropriate by the user community). It also allows users the ability to designate in advance if they feel that things that they are uploading might be considered objectionable and allowing them to mark their images accordingly.

Photos uploaded are categorized as "safe" "moderate" or "restricted" and images are also classified as "photos" "art/illustration" or "screenshot".

The default that your account seems to be set at is with safe filtering turned on. So it is incumbent upon you to actually go to your settings and change them if you would like to not have images filtered out of your flickr search and other public areas. You can change your settings to your desired level of filtering here.

A replacement to Flickr’s unpopular NIPSA (Not in Public Search Areas) system which preceded filters had been long promised by Flickr staff. Previous to this feature, the community could mark potentially "offensive" material as such and have the images removed from Flickr search. In some cases how Flickr handled some of the potentially offensive images was absurd. For instance, recently I uploaded a screenshot of all of my twitter contacts to Flickr. The image was quickly marked offensive by users and pulled from Flickr’s public areas. When I replaced the screenshot with a crappier looking photo that I had taken with my camera of my computer screen of the exact same thing Flickr allowed it back into public search.

The old system was broken and so this new system is a step in the right direction. It is also likely that this new system was a necessary step for Flickr to have in place for their upcoming announced plans to introduce a version of Flickr for China. Flickr has had significant trouble over the course of the past few years with having their service universally blocked in the UAE. The concern by the censors in the UAE largely comes down to what they feel are inappropriate images on the flickr service.

With Flickr’s upcoming announced plans to enter China it is likely that they would need some significant censorship system in place to keep the Chinese government happy with providing this kind of service there. My suspicion would be that the locked level of access for all Chinese will be with Flickr’s "safe search" enabled.

Although this new filtering system by Flickr is a step in the right direction there are still some things that need work. To start with images are not the only thing that Flickr has censored with the NIPSA designation in the past. Groups or forums where potentially objectionable speech has taken place have also been marked NIPSA. There is still some confusion with regards to whether or not Flickr will continue censoring certain groups even if you choose to remove all filtering and designate that you are over 18.

For instance, as of the writing of this article, the group Del*te Me Uncensored remains hidden from public search on Flickr. I have Flickr’s safe filtering turned off but it still does not appear in a public group search term for the search term "uncensored." There is an imposter version of Del*te Me Uncensored which comes up but not the actual group.

There is also some concern that images which do not cut the mustard from a "safe" perspective on Flickr are also excluded from Flickr’s popular "Explore" section of images. Recently many of the more popular users on Flickr have expressed frustration and dissatisfaction with the fact that many of their images that receive considerable social activity (faves, comments, etc.) are not being included in Flickr’s Explore section while other photos are.

All in all I think this move represents a positive step forward for Flickr. Despite the fact that there still seem to be some bugs to work out in the system, it gives users on Flickr more control over their viewing experience and addresses at least some of the concerns that more conservative groups have expressed in the past about adult type material showing up on Flickr.

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