Flickr and Facebook STILL Strip EXIF Data

In November 2008 I wrote an article that highlighted how Flickr and Facebook both strip out EXIF data in images that are uploaded. A comment to that post recently got me excited about the possibility Flickr had changed its ways and initial testing indicated it might have.

However, sadly, a year and a half later, nothing has changed. I’ve redone the tests with no luck. Flickr and Facebook are both stripping out EXIF data to uploaded images. The only exception is that I can now confirm Flickr is preserving the data on original images, just not on the automatically generated resized versions.

Below is a quick analysis of the problem and why it is a serious issue that every photographer should be worried about.

How Flickr Does It

If you upload images to Flickr, the site automatically generates up to five different versions including square, thumbnail, small, medium and large. If you are a non-pro account user, these are the only images sizes available as they can not download originals.

The original files preserve the EXIF data but the other sizes, the ones generated by Flickr. Do not. For example, compare the EXIF data stored in the two sizes of this image, the original being on the left. (Note: Original image by mikebaird and licensed under a Creative Commons License)

Since that image was from 2008, I redid the test using this image, which was uploaded this month and found the same results. (Note: Original image by dicktay2000 and licensed under a Creative Commons License)

In short, Flickr still has the same problem it did two years ago and is stripping out the metadata on images when it resizes them. Unfortunately, it resizes all images uploaded and, in the case of unpaid users, there is no way to access the originals. Furthermore, since the original images are usually too large for Web use, it is the smaller ones that get passed around the most.

Facebook Too

I also repeated the test with Facebook, using an image I took during a recent geocaching run, and compared an original from my phone to the version I downloaded from Facebook. The original is on the left.

Unfortunately, with Facebook, there is no way to download the original photo and, as such, the EXIF data is never seen publicly. All you can do is either add a visual watermark or hope that, if the image is passed around on the Web, that attribution remains intact.

Why This is Bad

With the recent near-miss in the Digital Economy Bill in Britain over orphan works, it is clear that orphan works legislation will be a part of the future of copyright.

Though there were differences between the UK bill and the two that were tried in the U.S. without success, the crux is the same. If the owner or the rightsholder of a copyrighted work can not be found or identified, the work can be used so long as the person using it performed a reasonable search.

This issue most directly impacts photographers and visual artists as their work is more difficult to search for and often has no attribution affixed to it. As such, image sharing sites, such as Flickr, should be doing everything they can to help identify the authors of the works they host, including preserving the EXIF data.

The failure to do so, especially for Flickr, which caters so strongly to professional photographers, is very dangerous and may create serious problems down the road for the users who trusted the service.

Bottom Line

While I grant that this is an invisible problem in that EXIF data is not immediately seen by those who view or use the site, it is an important one to fix. Hopefully both of these sites will work on a fix to preserve the metadata of images uploaded to them to prevent creating orphan works.

After all, the problem of orphaned works is not one that’s going to go away and the only way it can be resolved with current works is through cooperation of all involved and that includes photo sharing sites.

In the meantime though, just be aware that, when you upload your images to Flickr or Facebook, your metadata may not travel with them.

67 comments
Dave
Dave

I came across this site whilst looking into the recent highlighting of how GPS is being included in photos uploaded online, which allows children to be located by strangers, so I for one am all in favour of at least parts of the EXIF data not being retained.

I have to say that your reason for wanting EXIF data to be included is misguided. There is nothing in EXIF data that cannot be altered using freely available tools.

If someone is attempting to plagarise your photographs then simply changing the timestamp to one before yours would be enough for there to be doubt as to the veracity of your claim based mainly on this information.

They could also claim that you have added the data in order to try to prove your claim.

If professionals are that concerned about retaining the information then they should not be relying on social sites to hold their photographs. There are numerous services that allow you to store data without altering it.

Derrick
Derrick

They do so because it's a privacy issue. Revealing a private persons location is far more important than your possible complains in relation to plagiarism.

Rudy Torres
Rudy Torres

As a working photographer I refuse to post anything on flckr. It's the first place bloggers go to rape and pillage images without paying for content. http://RudyTorresRocks.com

Anonymous
Anonymous

RE Pomeroy and Hellfire, there is a train of thought that theives are targetting vehicles for sale by getting the GPS data and googling the co-ordinates to locate and steal the vehicle.

R. Sanchez
R. Sanchez

Facebook appears to strip EXIF data from photos.

I have had a Flickr Pro account since 2006. My photos maintain the EXIF data, but I do have an option to turn it off. "Hide your EXIF data [?]"

rockinronnie
rockinronnie

I'm not sure I understand the issue. Are you saying that as long as the EXIF data is included, then it's ok to copy your photos? Unless I'm missing something here(which is entirely possibe..lol) I don't see how EXIF data, incuded or not, will prevent people from using your images.

re Hellfire comment ... I think the people blocking license plate numbers and GPS data in photos, are concerned about the billion plus possible wackos on the 'net', not the one or two local ones who may also be at the park or watching them drive down the street.

Wes Pomeroy
Wes Pomeroy

There is a positive side effect of stripping - many smart phones embed GPS coordinates in EXIF data. For parents with kids who aren't on top of their privacy settings, it's pretty scary to know that people can figure out what park you go to every Saturday with your child.

Wes Pomeroy
Wes Pomeroy

There is a positive side effect of stripping - many smart phones embed GPS coordinates in EXIF data. For parents with kids who aren't on top of their privacy settings, it's pretty scary to know that people can figure out what park you go to every Saturday with your child.

Mike
Mike

It's kind of irrelevant whether EXIF is in place since most people who steal photos do it via screen capture. Also, "professionals" use IPTC anyway, not EXIF.

Mike
Mike

It's kind of irrelevant whether EXIF is in place since most people who steal photos do it via screen capture. Also, "professionals" use IPTC anyway, not EXIF.

Bryce
Bryce

I would like to see Facebook partially strip data. I mean, think of the dangers from pictures taken with an iPhone that contain the GPS co-ordinates? Strip that really personal stuff but keep name, url, license etc..

Bryce
Bryce

I would like to see Facebook partially strip data. I mean, think of the dangers from pictures taken with an iPhone that contain the GPS co-ordinates? Strip that really personal stuff but keep name, url, license etc..

LiveJournal Refugee
LiveJournal Refugee

As a visual artist, I appreciate this article very, very much. I'm about to get rid of my Photobucket account and had been considering Flickr, but now I know better.

As for FACEBOOK -- they have MUCH bigger problems than removal of EXIF data. Their Terms of Service explicitly state that they have the right to use ANY content posted there for ANY REASON; in essence, they claim ownership of your intellectual property, whether it is words, images, video, or anything else. I just learned this the other day and am preparing to strip every art image I ever posted out of my Facebook account; this may or may not require actually deleting the account.

LiveJournal Refugee
LiveJournal Refugee

As a visual artist, I appreciate this article very, very much. I'm about to get rid of my Photobucket account and had been considering Flickr, but now I know better. As for FACEBOOK -- they have MUCH bigger problems than removal of EXIF data. Their Terms of Service explicitly state that they have the right to use ANY content posted there for ANY REASON; in essence, they claim ownership of your intellectual property, whether it is words, images, video, or anything else. I just learned this the other day and am preparing to strip every art image I ever posted out of my Facebook account; this may or may not require actually deleting the account.

LiveJournal Refugee
LiveJournal Refugee

As a visual artist, I appreciate this article very, very much. I'm about to get rid of my Photobucket account and had been considering Flickr, but now I know better.
As for FACEBOOK -- they have MUCH bigger problems than removal of EXIF data. Their Terms of Service explicitly state that they have the right to use ANY content posted there for ANY REASON; in essence, they claim ownership of your intellectual property, whether it is words, images, video, or anything else. I just learned this the other day and am preparing to strip every art image I ever posted out of my Facebook account; this may or may not require actually deleting the account.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

"The vast majority of their users don't even know what it is, much less care about it."

This is true, but the professional users do very much and they are the ones buying pro accounts and are the heaviest users of the site. If something simple can cater to them, it makes sense to do it and since the more amateur users don't know and don't care, they won't be affected.

"Contrarily, if they were to attempt to preserve it and mistakenly removed or altered it in some cases but not in others, they could be accused of incompetence or even unlawful removal of copyright information, and would not have the excuse, "we do it to all files on the service.""

This argument doesn't score with me. Flickr's TOS takes care of all these kinds of issues, even if they accidentally destroy the images completely. I don't see how this would stop it. I don't see how the fact something may not work 100% of the time should stop them from providing a service. If that were the case, there would be no services at all on the Web…

Just my thoughts.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

That's not a bad idea for pro accounts. You'd think Flickr would be all over that. Of course, you would also think they'd want to preserve the metadata and modify it to promote themselves as well. They could also take advantage of this...

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

Thanks for the heads up on FB Connect. I think Disqus is having to fix this issue as Facebook just made some major changes.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

I don't understand it either. Every day that goes by, more images slip into the abyss…

However, it *shouldn't* be that tricky for older ones either as they do preserve the original images (how pro users get them) so they can pull the data there….

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

"The vast majority of their users don't even know what it is, much less care about it."This is true, but the professional users do very much and they are the ones buying pro accounts and are the heaviest users of the site. If something simple can cater to them, it makes sense to do it and since the more amateur users don't know and don't care, they won't be affected."Contrarily, if they were to attempt to preserve it and mistakenly removed or altered it in some cases but not in others, they could be accused of incompetence or even unlawful removal of copyright information, and would not have the excuse, "we do it to all files on the service.""This argument doesn't score with me. Flickr's TOS takes care of all these kinds of issues, even if they accidentally destroy the images completely. I don't see how this would stop it. I don't see how the fact something may not work 100% of the time should stop them from providing a service. If that were the case, there would be no services at all on the Web…Just my thoughts.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

"The vast majority of their users don't even know what it is, much less care about it."This is true, but the professional users do very much and they are the ones buying pro accounts and are the heaviest users of the site. If something simple can cater to them, it makes sense to do it and since the more amateur users don't know and don't care, they won't be affected."Contrarily, if they were to attempt to preserve it and mistakenly removed or altered it in some cases but not in others, they could be accused of incompetence or even unlawful removal of copyright information, and would not have the excuse, "we do it to all files on the service.""This argument doesn't score with me. Flickr's TOS takes care of all these kinds of issues, even if they accidentally destroy the images completely. I don't see how this would stop it. I don't see how the fact something may not work 100% of the time should stop them from providing a service. If that were the case, there would be no services at all on the Web…Just my thoughts.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

That's not a bad idea for pro accounts. You'd think Flickr would be all over that. Of course, you would also think they'd want to preserve the metadata and modify it to promote themselves as well. They could also take advantage of this...

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

That's not a bad idea for pro accounts. You'd think Flickr would be all over that. Of course, you would also think they'd want to preserve the metadata and modify it to promote themselves as well. They could also take advantage of this...

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

Thanks for the heads up on FB Connect. I think Disqus is having to fix this issue as Facebook just made some major changes.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

Thanks for the heads up on FB Connect. I think Disqus is having to fix this issue as Facebook just made some major changes.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

I don't understand it either. Every day that goes by, more images slip into the abyss…However, it *shouldn't* be that tricky for older ones either as they do preserve the original images (how pro users get them) so they can pull the data there….

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

I don't understand it either. Every day that goes by, more images slip into the abyss…However, it *shouldn't* be that tricky for older ones either as they do preserve the original images (how pro users get them) so they can pull the data there….

MarcW
MarcW

It is in the interests of Flickr and Facebook to make photo redistribution by their users as anonymous as possible so as to help them use the services they provide as much as possible with reduced fear of repurcussion for copyright infringement. They have no economic interest in preserving EXIF data since the vast majority of their users don't even know what it is, much less care about it. Contrarily, if they were to attempt to preserve it and mistakenly removed or altered it in some cases but not in others, they could be accused of incompetence or even unlawful removal of copyright information, and would not have the excuse, "we do it to all files on the service."

Discuss.

DavidEttinger
DavidEttinger

Thanks for the testing - please keep it up! Knowing that Flickr and Facebook are stripping out all the data we as photographers load into our files is really troublesome. It would be nice if they could make metadata persistent for Pro accounts, thus giving an incentive to sign up for Pro accounts, and thus making more money. You would think the sites would want to keep all those data in there, and use them to find more ways to make more money as the images spread around the web.
David Ettinger

MarcW
MarcW

It is in the interests of Flickr and Facebook to make photo redistribution by their users as anonymous as possible so as to help them use the services they provide as much as possible with reduced fear of repurcussion for copyright infringement. They have no economic interest in preserving EXIF data since the vast majority of their users don't even know what it is, much less care about it. Contrarily, if they were to attempt to preserve it and mistakenly removed or altered it in some cases but not in others, they could be accused of incompetence or even unlawful removal of copyright information, and would not have the excuse, "we do it to all files on the service."Discuss.

MarcW
MarcW

It is in the interests of Flickr and Facebook to make photo redistribution by their users as anonymous as possible so as to help them use the services they provide as much as possible with reduced fear of repurcussion for copyright infringement. They have no economic interest in preserving EXIF data since the vast majority of their users don't even know what it is, much less care about it. Contrarily, if they were to attempt to preserve it and mistakenly removed or altered it in some cases but not in others, they could be accused of incompetence or even unlawful removal of copyright information, and would not have the excuse, "we do it to all files on the service."Discuss.

DavidEttinger
DavidEttinger

Thanks for the testing - please keep it up! Knowing that Flickr and Facebook are stripping out all the data we as photographers load into our files is really troublesome. It would be nice if they could make metadata persistent for Pro accounts, thus giving an incentive to sign up for Pro accounts, and thus making more money. You would think the sites would want to keep all those data in there, and use them to find more ways to make more money as the images spread around the web.David Ettinger

DavidEttinger
DavidEttinger

Thanks for the testing - please keep it up! Knowing that Flickr and Facebook are stripping out all the data we as photographers load into our files is really troublesome. It would be nice if they could make metadata persistent for Pro accounts, thus giving an incentive to sign up for Pro accounts, and thus making more money. You would think the sites would want to keep all those data in there, and use them to find more ways to make more money as the images spread around the web.David Ettinger

BigSean
BigSean

I heartily agree that stripping out EXIF data is bad, bad, bad. I've had photos of mine ripped off and used without permission, by my alma mater no less.

As Rafael R points out, this should be trivial to fix.

PS: FaceBook Connect is broken.

cybele
cybele

There have been plenty of Flickr users clamoring not only for EXIF data to be preserved but also other Metadata, like the source of the image on Flickr.

I don't understand why Flickr can't do this for the images on its site. I know it'd be problematic for the existing ones, but the new ones should get this attention.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

I replied directly Spamboy but, while I think he has a point, it is a problem that should be easily worked around...

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

Hm. I'm not sure. Very little of the EXIF data deals with the size of the image or the resolution/size. Most of it is information about the camera and that should not change with the smaller version.

They could, if they wanted, preserve the original EXIF data but add a small comment saying that it was for the original image and certain variables may be off. I don't see the harm in doing that.

It certainly seems to be worse to have no EXIF data than some incorrect information...

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

I attempted to contact both back in 2008 but did not reach out for this article as it was just an update. I may attempt it again though to see if things are different now.

Rafael R.
Rafael R.

It would seem this would be a trivial issue to fix -- simply ensure the tools used to resize the photography on the backend, keeps EXIF data. There are no increased storage requirements that I'm aware of, so what's the big deal? Have you attempted Flickr/Facebook contact?

Spamboy
Spamboy

Do you think their rationale is that the non-original photos they are generating should be stripped, because they're modified copies that no longer represent the EXIF data associated with the original?

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

The problem is that Flickr removes EXIF data out of your images. No, copying an image without permission is not acceptable just because it has EXIF data but if it is copied without permission, it can be MUCH harder to track, search for and prove ownership of if that data has been removed. In short, EXIF data is a layer of protection for images and one that Flickr removes.

hellfire
hellfire

if are that scared then dont come out of the house....what an idiotic reason.   Why do i need to figure it out.....if you are at the park....I can see you.   Its like idiots who block their plates in photos..... WHY!!! when u drive down the street the fucking plate is in plain view....whats the point.

 

hellfire
hellfire

if are that scared then dont come out of the house....what an idiotic reason.   Why do i need to figure it out.....if you are at the park....I can see you.   Its like idiots who block their plates in photos..... WHY!!! when u drive down the street the fucking plate is in plain view....whats the point.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

Good point, but IPTC gets stripped exactly the same way as EXIF on both sites. It's not a matter of the format of the metadata, but the fact it exists...

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey

Good point, but IPTC gets stripped exactly the same way as EXIF on both sites. It's not a matter of the format of the metadata, but the fact it exists...

hellfire
hellfire

why the f_uck does it matter?  what are you taking pictures of....a pile of money in your closet that you dont want anyone to know about???

hellfire
hellfire

if are that scared then dont come out of the house....what an idiotic reason.   Why do i need to figure it out.....if you are at the park....I can see you.   Its like idiots who block their plates in photos..... WHY!!! when u drive down the street the fucking plate is in plain view....whats the point.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] offenders of major online services. In April 2010, Jonathan Bailey reported on Plagiarism Today Flickr and Facebook STILL Strip EXIF Data. Flickr apparently now keeps it on the original uploaded files, but there is none on the other [...]

  2. [...] the attribution for them is carried wherever they go. Unfortunately, few people check metadata, which is easily stripped regardless, and a visible watermark is simply the best [...]

  3. […] an even larger potential issue is the metadata one. I’ve talked before how many image sharing site strip out EXIF metadata from photos. This ruling hints that, if such metadata is considered have been “developed pursuant to a […]

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