Feb. 12, 2013 at 3:20 PM ET
Flickr users' unknowingly had their photos shared publicly for nearly three weeks because of a "software bug" that made their photographs marked "private" open to viewing.
It's not known how many of the photo site's 51 million registered users were affected. A Flickr spokesperson told NBC News Tuesday it is believed to be a "small percentage" of Flickr users. But as Flickr notes on its own site, "The Flickr world is abuzz with action, with thousands of photos uploaded every minute (about 4.5 million daily)."
Flickr, owned by Yahoo, sent an email last Saturday to the users whose photos were made public, saying it was "deeply sorry that this happened."
In the email, Flickr vice president Brett Wayn wrote that "while performing routine site maintenance, we identified a software bug that may have changed the view setting on some of your photos from non-public (i.e., private or viewable only by family and friends) to public. Affected photos were visible on Flickr between January 18th and February 7th, 2013."
Users had been complaining about the problem on Flickr's help forum.
"I see that a huge amount of my 'private' photos (friends, family) has became public!" posted one on Feb. 7. "Now I am spending a lot of time to move such content to 'private area.' It is not good at all!"
Posted another: "What a mess. I have always with great precision sorted all my upload to private, friends only or public and now it's all screwed up. First I was annoyed about around 10 of my friends only pictures (many with my contact details) turn public, but now I'm much more pissed off about Flickr's decision to randomly turn my public pictures private so that I must comb though EVERY picture to see whether they are private, public or friends only and what to do about them."
User Barry Schwartz wrote on the Search Engine Roundtable site about the aggravation.
"All my family photos that were set to private" were "visible to anyone in the world — anyone who wanted to see them. This is despite my privacy settings," he wrote.
He shared a copy of the email sent by Wayn:
The Flickr spokesperson told NBC News that if users didn't receive the email from Flickr, "then they were not affected" by the bug.
"The photos did not appear in search results and were limited to photos uploaded between April and December of 2012," the spokesperson said. "We've set all potentially affected photos to private so that they are now only viewable by the account holder. This was not widespread or an ongoing issue. It was a bug that has been fixed. At Yahoo!, we take security and privacy very seriously. We are deeply sorry this happened and have taken measures to ensure this doesn't happen again."