Friday, August 3, 2012

BEWARE: @Flickr deletes accounts with no warning!

I started using Flickr for picture storage and sharing in 2005 or 2006. My account had a lovely little archive of my early days with The Husband and the very first pictures of our precious baby too. Comments from friends and family, my comments on the moments in time in which these pictures were taken, all happily stored away in my account. Until last Sunday...

When I got an error message logging in saying the account was deleted, I figured there must be some mistake. I checked the FAQs, and knowing I had done nothing to violate the community guidelines I requested help by email. The first couple of emails were the standard "Have you read the FAQs? What's your login name/email address? Did you violate the community guidelines?" to make sure I'm not an idiot. No problem, I expect that in any dealings with customer service, especially a team that deals with millions of people across all levels of technical aptitude. I was a little annoyed that the same questions were asked several times over in several different emails, but I'm usually very understanding. Until the conversation goes completely sideways.

The following is the (sorry, lengthy) email exchange I had with their incompetent customer service team. The circularity is (unintentionally) hilarious. I like the part towards the end where they delete my deleted account, right after I say don't delete my account. No, seriously - that happened! Read on:
ME on July 30: Thank you for your assistance. As I signed up for my account many years ago (2005 or 2006), there are several options for the answers to some of the questions posed below. I will include all of the possibilities in my response: <WHOLE BUNCH OF REQUESTED INFO TO IDENTIFY ME AS THE ACCOUNT OWNER> Once again, thank you in advance for your assistance. Sincerely, <ME>
Flickr reply on July 31: Thank you for contacting Flickr Customer Care. We appreciate your writing back and responding to our request. Based on your email, I understand that you want to reactivate your deleted "<MY FLICKR ACCOUNT>" Flickr account. I apologize for the inconvenience that this issue has caused you. I am glad to assist you with your concern.

<MY NAME>, please be informed that when an account is deleted, the content including the photos, metadata, comments, and everything else will stay on the servers for 90 days, but is no longer publicly accessible. After that period, we erase it from our servers, ensuring a clean wipe of your information. If an account is reactivated within 90 days of deletion, the content will still be in the account when it is restored.

If you deleted your account yourself, you can write us with the following details: * Your Flickr account Web address * The Yahoo! ID associated to your Flickr account (for confirmation since there are no Flickr account that is associated with the Yahoo! ID you have provided) * The following details associated to your account in order to verify your ownership:  - Date of birth  - Secret question and answer  - Postal code and country  - Alternate email address

However, if your account is deleted/inactive but you didn't delete it, it's likely that it was deleted for violating the Flickr Community Guidelines and/or Yahoo! Terms of Service. Accounts in violation of the Community Guidelines will not be reactivated. However, if you believe that your account was deleted in error you can write to us via the link below: learn more about this, please visit our FAQ at this link:
I hope I've been a good help today. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reply to this email.Thank you again for contacting us. Regards, <FLICKR>
ME on July 31:  Hi there, If you scroll down a little further you will see that I have already provided the answers to these questions. I read the FAQs, I did not delete my own account, and did not violate any community guidelines or terms of use. This entire email exchange started by following the instructions in the link you have provided below and as I am now answering the same questions for a second or third time, I'm getting a little frustrated. Please restore my account and all of the photos in it. Sincerely, <ME>
Flickr reply on Aug 1 (after I followed up requesting a status update): Hello <MYNAME>, Thank you for contacting Flickr Customer Care. Before I go into addressing your concern, I'd like to apologize for the delay in my responding to your inquiry. We are  committed to answering your questions as quickly and accurately as possible. However, we are currently receiving unusually high volumes which caused the delayed response.
Moving to your concern, I understand that you would like to restore your"<MY ACCOUNT NAME>" Flickr account. I apologize for the inconvenience this has been causing you. I am pleased to be of help. <MYNAME>, I have reviewed the information you included; unfortunately, I am unable to pull up any account matching what you provided. In order to search your account and assist you with your concern, please provide us the following information: * The email addresses you may have associated with your Flickr account (you can provide as many as you can) *The Web address of your Flickr account is possible. Once we have this information, we'll be more than happy to help you in whatever way we can. We appreciate your patience in the meantime, and look forward to your reply. Thank you again for contacting us. Regards, <FLICKR>
ME on Aug 1: As requested, the email addresses which could have been associated with my account are <LIST OF 5 EMAIL ADDRESSES>:  the URL that was associated with the account is: <REQUESTED URL> As you will see upon visiting that URL, you will note it says "This member is no longer active on Flickr"

Here is a link to one of my photosets, which gives the same error message: <ANOTHER URL> As this has been ongoing for quite some time now, anything you can do to provide a speedy resolution will be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, <ME>
Flickr reply on Aug 3 (after I followed up requesting a status update): Hello <MY NAME>, Thank you for contacting Flickr. I can see you have requested assistance in restoring your deleted Flickr account. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Our records show the Yahoo! Account affiliated with your Flickr account has been deleted. You will no longer be able to access, edit or delete the associated Flickr account.
We can delete the account for you, however please be aware that the photos and metadata will be permanently deleted as well. If you intend on creating a new Flickr account, you will not be able to re-use the deleted Flickr account screenname. Please reply noting whether you'd like us to delete the Flickr account. Thank you again for contacting Flickr. Regards, <FLICKR>
Now, you'll note that until this point, I had been pretty polite. I did not use the words "Fuck" or "Moron" even once. I believe I showed remarkable restraint. You see how this email states the problem is that I want my deleted account restored, and would I like them to go ahead and delete my account? If you're thinking "What the actual fuck is going on here?" you're not alone.
ME on Aug3: No, I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT want the account and associated photos deleted. My request all along, for a week and over the course of some TWENTY emails has been to have it restored. What do I need to do to make that happen? Do I need to set up a new Yahoo account and arrange assistance to transfer the files?
Flickr reply on Aug 3: Hello <MYNAME>, Thank you for contacting Flickr.I apologize for the prior miscommunication, as your initial messagerequested login assistance, not deletion. Nevertheless, I've gone ahead and deleted your Flickr account. If you intend on creating a new Flickr account, please note you will not be able to re-use your old Flickr screenname. If you should have any further questions or concerns, please let us know. Regards, <FLICKR>.
I'd like to pause for a moment and and ask you to picture the look of HULK SMASH RAGE that came over me as I read that on the way home from the subway. There may have been actual steam coming from my ears, or maybe that was just the whoosh of skyrocketing blood pressure. Who knows?
ME on Aug 3: My initial email said nothing of the sort. In fact, the subject line reads "deleted account." I do not understand how "No, I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT want the account and associated photos deleted." could possibly be interpreted to mean that deleting my account altogether would be the desired course of action. Are my irreplaceable pictures and files now irretrievably lost?
Flickr reply on Aug 3: Hello <MY NAME>, Thank you for contacting Flickr. At this time, your issue has been escalated to a Yahoo! Account Services specialist. Unfortunately, we are only able to provide support via email at this time. We appreciate your patience and understanding. I can see there was some miscommunication regarding the action you would like taken with your Flickr account. I see that actually did not want the account deleted as it contains priceless photos. I'm very sorry for the trouble this situation has caused.
As previously noted, it appears the Yahoo! ID associated with this Flickr account has been  deleted. Because of this, we will be unable to restore access to the Flickr account. As such, we deleted the account for you for security and privacy reasons, because that is the only action we can take. Please be aware that the photos and metadata will be permanently deleted as well. However, if you intend on creating a new Flickr account, you will not be able to re-use the deleted Flickr account screenname.
I hope this helps clarify and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.If we can address any other issues for you, please let us know. Thank you again for contacting Flickr. Regards, <FLICKR>.
Ohhhhhh, it's for my own good! Well, thanks and fuck you very much!
ME on Aug 3: Please do not attempt to spin this as something done for my benefit. Deleting the account altogether in the midst of a discourse about RESTORING  it is the worst possible course of action. How is deleting an account that cannot be accessed anyway a protection of my security and/or privacy? I would like a reasonable explanation for this, and not a canned one, please. Are my pictures now irretrievably lost? Please provide a direct answer to that direct question. 
And there you have it... The most staggering incompetence in customer service I have ever seen. Will I get my pictures back? Will the canned responses ever end? Only time will tell!

UPDATE ON AUGUST 6th: My account has been restored!
Reply from Flickr: Hello <MYNAME>, Thank you for writing to Flickr. I apologize for the continued difficulties you are experiencing with accessing your Flickr account, and I hope this hasn't impacted you too much. I appreciate the importance of maintaining family photos. I have good news. Your photos are not lost. The email address you wrote from (THE SAME EMAIL ADDRESS I USED ALL ALONG, FFS!) matches the "<MY FLICKR NAME>" Flickr account. At your request, I have reactivated your Flickr account.


Unknown said...

OMG I don't have an online photo storage thing because of the basic rules that once it is posted online it no longer belongs to you. I don't want that to happen.

I hope you get your photos back and I am really sorry for your troubles. Those ass hats have no freaking clue!

Samantha said...

Oh wow. I can't even imagine how irate I would be. I hope they are able to recover your pictures.

Karen said...

Oh my God! I would be livid.

Amy McGibbon Lang said...

Congratulations on getting it restored! I applaud your patience and tenacity - I would have lost it around email #6 or so, never would have gotten to 20.

They said nothing of why or how it happened? Curious - have you found a new photo site? :)

Thomas Hawk said...

Glad to hear it got restored. I think customer service problems happen in every business, but the important thing is that in the end Flickr had a mechanism to recover your photos and get them back and up online for you. Good news!

Unknown said...

That is absolutely harrowing. But CONGRATS on getting it back! I use Flickr all the time, but I'm going to look for a backup solution right now. Suggestions anyone?

Lynne said...

OMG! What a nightmare! As a Customer Service rep myself, I am appalled at how this situation was handled. As a member of Flickr, I am now frightened as to what could happen with all those photos!

Anonymous said...

What the hell? That is just scary. Please tell me that you've backed those files up now!

I don't doubt your frustration at all, I had an eerily similar round of emails with them last year, where each time they replied it would be a new rep and they'd ask the same questions (I just checked it took 11 tries and 12 days). I only got answers once I asked if they were just jerking me around to see how many times I could answer the same question. And that it was especially sad considering I'd appended the full history to each reply.