Flickr won't tolerate you and your real estate ways.
Flickr, the widely popular photo sharing service, is not going to let you abuse them anymore. By abuse, I mean use them for commercial purposes. It states in their terms of service that you won't use the site for commercial purposes, but I never really caught onto that. Until recently. Seems my content violated their terms of service (it was commercial in nature, no doubt about that) and they closed my account with even a warning. Because there was no warning, I spent time emailing customer support and asking their Twitter account (@flickr) for help, advice, or at least an answer. The only way to contact Flickr support is via email and the last time I had a problem (about 6 months ago)...well, I still haven't heard back from them.
While I respect Flickr's right to set rules and use them to control the site, I am not a huge fan of the way they handle it. Without warning, my account is gone. A PRO account (paid). Gone, canceled, terminated, and deleted. It's only $25, but I'm a little peeved that they were able to cancel my account and keep my money. I spoke with Emily at customer support today and while I appreciated her taking the time to answer my questions, I felt that the robotic answers made Flickr's responses seem harsh and out of touch with the internet's customer service oriented push.
In asking about how they define commercial purposes, I was met with little more than a link: http://www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne
"Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account."
So I ask the real estate agent public - how do you use Flickr? I definitely stepped over the boundaries in using Flickr, of that there is no doubt (I admit, I rarely read a site's TOS). How about those of you that have photo blogs? Is your use of photos to showcase your town a commercial use? When I asked Flickr support, they didn't have much of a solid answer other than the link above. In addition, when you lose your account, you lose your username. Gone forever. Have you branded your Flickr page with a name you commonly use (such as my "rerockstar")? What do you do when that is locked out forever? I have a lot of unanswered questions thanks to Flickr support.
If we can't use Flickr to host "commercial" content, how can we search for Creative Commons licensing for "commercial" use? It seems a bit awkward to me. Admittedly, I'm just a bit bitter now, since I will have to go back through all my photos and recreate some blog pieces as well as all of my slide shows (which are the core of my Neighborhoods section on my site).
Next time you upload a photo to Flickr, think about it - is this for commercial use? If it is, you may find yourself staring at the photo above - all over your blog and without your former username.
**UPDATE** This whole situation has garnered some attention on Twitter and other blogs. Although I know I'll never get my account back, it's nice to see some support and discussion on this ruling by Flickr. Check out Aaron Hockley's article, "Flickr Permanently Deletes Yet Another User Without Warning on Social Photo Talk.