Today I have been looking at FamilySearch.org's Family Tree, helping other users, and finding instance after instance where the contributor has no email address. This is especially disconcerting in the Photos, Documents and Stories section where you cannot edit the wrong tags or anything else and the person has left no way to make contact. One of the fundamental concepts of a collaborative program such as Family Tree is, of course, the ability to collaborate. The absence of contributor's email addresses makes that virtually impossible and seriously undermines the integrity of the entire database.
In the main part of the Tree, the answer to contributors who fail to add an email address or some other contact information is to remove any of their improper or inaccurate changes. But if valuable information is added without citing a source, without contact information there is no expedient way to determine the origin of the additions. In one case, I observed a photo that had been obviously mis-identified. Not only was there no way to correct the misidentification, there was no way to contact the "owner" and ask for a correction. I am sure that FamilySearch does not wish to take on the burden of correcting every mistake when the user sends in a complaint by email or telephone call. In this particular case, the wrong identification occurred in conjunction with demonstrating the program to a brand new user. Of course, the misidentification and the fact that there was no way to correct the information or contact the contributor did not make a good impression. This was especially true when the misidentification of the photo was of the new user's own father.
One of the major issues with a program such as Family Tree is the reticence of researchers to contribute their information when they feel that the work they have done will be "changed" by some other incompetent user. This issue is real but needs to be addressed in another post. But if you add to the researchers' concerns the inability to contact or correct the bad data, the whole system will suffer.
To some extent, the issue of disclosing an email address is part of the larger problem of Internet security and the atmosphere created by constant attacks from spammers, phishers and other bad guys. But, from another standpoint the paranoia created among a certain class of computer users owes its origin, not to the reality of the dangers, but to the advertisements of the companies that wish to profit from the fears of their potential customers and do so by vastly inflating the statistics about the problem.
If you succumb to the fear mongers, you would simply quit using computers altogether and I suppose that happens more than we would like to believe. The way to see if an email account is compromised is fairly easy. You open a new email account for a specific purpose. For example, if you were morbidly concerned that using your email account for FamilySearch.org Family Tree or any other online program, then you could create a dedicated account just for use on that website. Then you could tell if the account has been compromised if you started to receive spam messages directed solely at that account. I am not going to discuss my own accounts in this context, but I can say that it does work.
I have never heard of anyone stopping their regular paper-based ground mail completely, just because they received some junk mail. But I have heard of people who cancelled their email and stopped using email simply because of the spam. Why? That is one reason we have spam filters. Through one of my email accounts, I get thousands of spam messages. The filters catch all but a tiny percentage of those messages and I delete the unfiltered messages automatically when I see them in my mail list. I do not open them. I delete them using my local my mail handling program.
Whatever the origin of the problem, online database operators, such as FamilySearch.org and others, need to recognize the problem created when the users refuse to allow others to see their email or provide any method of contact. This is one problem with Family Tree that undermines the usefulness of the entire program.