Flickr faces backlash after new system tags concentration camps ‘jungle gyms,’ humans ‘animals’

by Gannon Burgett

posted Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 12:22 PM EST


In its latest 4.0 update, Flickr unveiled a new auto-tagging system designed to intelligently determine the subject matter of an image and appropriately suggest tags for the images. Unfortunately, the automated tagging system isn’t nearly as intelligent – or politically correct – as Flickr was hoping.

A number of users are sending backlash to flickr after a number of instances where the automated tagging system made inappropriate suggestions. Specifically, users have cited cases where images of concentration camps were tagged with ‘sport’ or ‘jungle gym’. Similarly, there have been a number of cases where images of subjects, both black and white in complexion, are automatically tagged with ‘ape’ or ‘animal.’

A conversation between Flickr users over an inappropriate 'ape' tag on a photograph of a white female.

In a statement to The Guardian, a Flickr spokesperson said, ‘We are aware of issues with inaccurate auto-tags on Flickr and are working on a fix. While we are very proud of this advanced image-recognition technology, we’re the first to admit there will be mistakes and we are constantly working to improve the experience.’

The spokesperson went on to say that as users add and delete tags on images, the algorithms will learn from its mistakes and appropriately make adjustments to perform better as time goes on.

Just one of the many concentration camp images that were automatically tagged with 'sport' and 'jungle gym'

Flickr appears to be doing damage control, with the word ‘ape’ seemingly disappearing from the automated tagging system’s dictionary and ‘sport’ no longer appearing in the images of concentration camps. It’ll likely take some time before all problems are gone from the newly-implemented tagging system.

In the meantime, keep an eye on your own photos and the automatic tags. It might save you a little embarrassment down the road.

Image credits: Arbeit Macht Frei - Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0