Thursday, September 07, 2017

erasing the past

Few days go by without some major data destruction being reported in the press.  One such exploit that has not gained much notice was recently perpetrated by the photo sharing site, Photobucket.  With no prior warning to long-time users of the service, the company suddenly invalidated off-site links to any images stored on Photobucket.  Overnight, web links to thousands -- perhaps millions -- of images were broken.  The images which had been linked to on forums, web sites and blogs were all replaced with a notice, "Please update your account to enable 3rd party hosting".  Visiting the link at the bottom of the notice reveals that the cost of enabling 3rd party hosting will be $399.99. 

Simultaneously with the link breakage, Photobucket also disabled users' ability to download full album collections, hindering recovery of images from the site.  Images can still be downloaded individually, but it is a laborious process and downloading linked images requires additional steps which are not immediately apparent.  It is highly likely that a very small percentage of the users affected will submit to this extortionary gambit by the company.  The inevitable outcome will be the permanent erasure from the web of massive amounts of visual data.

Other companies have closed their doors on the web and data losses have often been the result.  What stands out in the case of Photobucket is the deliberate and highly organized manner in which the company attacked the integrity of the web to shore up the bottom line of a failing company.  The self-promotional material on the site still makes big claims about being a premier destination for photo sharing, but the reality is that the company has been a poor choice for such services for a decade.  It has probably remained viable only because of the extraordinary gains in efficiency and economy produced by general technological advances in the same period.

I started using Photobucket in 2006 around the time that digital photography and the sharing of imagery on line was really taking off.  The company at that time, like many others, was offering free on line photo storage and image linking.  That was  an attractive option for bringing digital images into text-based forum sites that did not usually have the capacity for storing and handling large quantities of data.  The business model which made the process viable was on line advertising.  People clicked on ads embedded in the web sites and a trickle of income was generated.

By the time I moved to Albuquerque in 2008 the links to photos stored on Photobucket were performing so poorly that a decision to stop storing photos there was a no-brainer.  Google's Blogger site had made image storage available to bloggers and there were other free photo sharing sites like Flickr that were bigger and faster than Photobucket.  So, I did move on, but a lot of image links from my previous two years of blogging remained attached to Photobucket.

Since Photobucket cut links to my images I have gone through my albums there to download some of the photos that I particularly valued and stored them in a folder on my own hard drive.  I have subsequently uploaded a few of those images to my blog to repair broken links.  However, I likely won't find the time or energy to repair all the damage to my first two years of blogging.
Update 9/13/17:
I went to the Photobucket site today to retrieve an image file to repair a broken link.  The site is littered with malware including pop-ups that will take control of your browser to attempt to extort money from visitors to the site.  Not worth the risk in my opinion.


Jim Grey said...

Great snapshot. Good looking fellow on the bike.

What Photobucket did is crap, full stop. I work in the software industry and have been a part of a couple companies that have, as we say in the biz, started circling the drain. I've never been party to a move like Photobucket's. It's ethics are borderline.

I worry a lot about Flickr. 90+% of my blog's photos are hosted there. As of today, I've published 1,801 posts. That's a lot of photographs to replace should Flickr go away or pull a Photobucket. Honestly, if something like that happens I will have to reconsider whether I continue the blog. The project to restore the lost photos is of an enormous scale and duration.

Mike said...

A wake-up call for sure. There are things people can do to protect their individual data. I have back-ups and I've got my negatives well organized. But as you say there is an enormous investment of time in putting anything out on the web, and redoing it is never easy. What is currently going on in regard to net neutrality is also a concern as it seems a clear signal that ethical standards are headed in the direction of the Photobucket example.

JR Smith said...

All this year, I've been doing a review, delete, archive on removable drive and printing the work I have done that I consider important. I do not trust that Flickr will be around forever. My images exist digitally in several places offline and some of the better ones are being printed and will be left behind for whomever wants them after I've gone to outer space.

The Photobucket thing is a disgrace.

I sometimes think about all of the young families I see recording their lives on smart phones and keeping the photos there or wherever. I am lucky. My Dad shot Kodachromes and I have trays of them from my childhood.

LOVE the photo by the way!

Mike said...

The photo is pre-internet. We were living in Glenns Ferry, Idaho and I was riding my Honda daily twenty miles to work in a greenhouse south of Boise. A little later we moved five miles up river to King Hill and I acquired a Sinclair computer and a tape recorder to hold the data.