After Backlash Over Upgrade, Flickr Considers Letting Users Opt-Out Of Auto-Tagging

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Not everyone was happy with last week’s major revamp of Yahoo-owned photo-sharing site Flickr. A small, but very vocal, portion of Flickr’s user base of 100 million members, immediately took to the forums to lament the fact that the site’s new “auto-tagging” feature was enabled by default, and, worse, that there was no opt-out option provided. But that may now be changing, we understand.

Flickr recently introduced a series of upgrades to its service on the web and on mobile designed to make every aspect of photo editing, organization and sharing easier on its service. A couple of the more notable changes were the addition of auto-tagging and new image-recognition capabilities. Combined, these features allow Flickr to identify what’s in a photo, and then automatically categorize it on users’ behalf by adding tags. This, in turn, makes images easier to surface by way of search.

Flickr_Web Search

Auto-tagging especially makes sense in today’s highly mobile age, where users take large numbers of photos and most no longer have the time or inclination to carefully group them or categorize them by manually adding tags. Tags, after all, are a holdover from an earlier time – the not-too-distant past before we all carried smartphones in our pockets capable of taking quality photos.

But for many Flickr users, tags are something they still feel strongly about, judging by the forum’s many comments. With over 1,370 replies to the official Flickr post (and growing), these users have been venting their frustration about the addition of auto-tagging. Many of those commenting have actually been fairly conscientious about their tags over the years, and don’t like that Flickr is now adding its own tags to their photos.

In addition, several also complain that Flickr’s auto-tags simply aren’t that accurate. In some cases, those mistakes are somewhat benign – a BMW gets tagged as a Ferrari, for example. But other times, they can be really terrible – as in the case of a user whose Auschwitz photos were incorrectly tagged as “sport,” for instance.

The problem lies with the fact that an algorithmic system of tagging is never going to be perfect – though it is capable of improving over time based on users’ corrections. But some are unwilling to wait for that training process to occur. They just want out. Period.

However, Flickr doesn’t offer an option to disable the auto-tagging at all, which is a rather bold stance to take. And while users can batch edit a group of tagged photos, they can’t edit auto-generated tags. So the only way to edit the auto-generated tags is to go into each photo individually. This is far too time-consuming for most people to manage, which is why so many are upset.

But Flickr tells us that it’s taking the community feedback on the matter seriously, and is evaluating an option that would allow an opt-out of the automated tagging. The option is not yet being built, but it is at least being actively discussed, from what we understand.

The company further explains that auto-tagging is actually a fairly crucial part to the upgraded service, as it is what powers a number of the new features, including the “Magic View,” which helps users organize and share their photos based on topic, as well as the new search tools and other “future features” still in the works. That could explain why Flickr felt strongly enough about auto-tagging to not make it an opt-in option in the first pace, as well as why there’s no “off” switch for the time being.

While likely a large majority of consumers won’t care (or maybe even notice), for those power users and others who rely heavily on Flickr as their main online image repository, adding the “opt-out” option – even as a gesture to the community – would be appreciated.

Correction, 5/17/15: Updated to clarify what can be done via batch editing vs individual photo editing.