SmugMug video data loss

I’ve written only recently about SmugMug, and expressed my frustration as a developer who built an open-source tool for their platform. This has led me to try to get my data out of SmugMug as I was considering moving away from it as well… Only to discover that some of my video data is lost and/or not being made available. This applies only for videos. Both the quality is potentially degraded, and the metadata that is available on SmugMug cannot be downloaded or exported out of their platform.

If you upload a video to SmugMug, they don’t actually store the original video for you. Here’s a quote from their official page:

Originals

We don’t keep a copy of the original video you upload. We make high-quality display copies, which are probably altered from what you send us.

I’m not sure what this high-quality display copy means in actual terms, but I won’t be surprised if some quality is lost in the process. For a company that prides itself caring for photographers, where quality and reliability is key, I find it rather vague and disconcerting.

Furthermore, what isn’t mentioned on this page is that if you want to download your videos again, those videos would be stripped-out of the original metadata as well. This metadata includes information about the Camera you used, the date/time of the video, location information etc. All of this data is still stored on SmugMug, but you can’t get it back when you download it. It’s locked-in. For me, personally, this is even worse than losing video quality. My video memories are very tightly linked to the time and location of those original scenes. Without this info, the videos are next to useless. I just can’t find them (without going manually through hundreds or thousands of dateless and location-less videos, that is)

SmugMug shows you all the original info, including the original filename, which implies everything is still there. But it isn’t. I found it extremely frustrating and even misleading. I contacted the SmugMug customer service and they weren’t able to help. This is what they said:

The meta information is being lost during the conversion. There is no possibility for us to be able to re-apply it when converting to a new format.

I wish I had a better answer for you.

and later when I prodded further, asking if there’s any other way to get this data (maybe a data export in other format)

Our system reads the meta information from the original file on upload, but once the file has been converted – the original file is being deleted.

There is no possibility to change this at the moment.

To illustrate this, if I download the video with the metadata on the screenshot above, and upload it again. This is what SmugMug now shows for the video. Basically nothing.

I guess their promise to keep metadata no matter what is a rather empty promise. Here’s a quote from the SmugMug CEO, Don MacAskill on this page:

We know this is a very important issue for photographers but unlike some sites, SmugMug does not strip key metadata from customers’ images. Assuming a customer uploads their images with the proper metadata we will always maintain the important fields in their display copies (except thumbnails).

Another quote from a post by Don MacAskill from 2008:

SmugMug has believed since the beginning that your photos and metatdata are yours to do with what you will. We view them as being on loan to us for safekeeping, and we take that role very seriously.

It seems that videos are not treated with the same reverence as images on SmugMug. I think it’s a real shame.

Update

I’ve contacted SmugMug and submitted a Data Portability Request under the EU GDPR. I was then sent a special form to fill, and was promised that within 30 days I should get an export with all my data. I explicitly asked whether the data would contain all metadata, including for videos, and was promised so.

Let’s wait and see how this pans out, but I’m more hopeful than before.

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