Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

An Interesting Comment on Online Privacy

In response to my recent post on the Illusion of Privacy, I got the following comment:
And the place where lack of privacy is most evident is on All the names, dates, and places of me, my spouse, my children, my sisters, etc. are there. All this popped up after I entered partial names on my part on the living. I don't even know how I am related to the man that has all my personal information and has shared it with the world. I first found this same information a bunch of years ago on Pedigree Resource File, but by the time I found it, it was already burned onto a multitude of CD's. FamilySearch, it seems, has since learned about privacy of the living and now takes it seriously. MyHeritage has not, and I have now found they have very lousy customer service or nonexistent would be better stated. They wanted additional money to be able to contact this person about my own personal self. I tracked down this person by other means and he told me he didn't care. I have cancelled my account with MyHeritage (but unfortunately cannot get the money back I did spend), and I now warn everybody away from MyHeritage that I work with on their family history.
I replied to this comment, but I thought that the comments by my dear friend Anonymous needed a more expansive response.

If I understand what is written above correctly, all of the information about this persons's family (me, my spouse, my children, my sisters, etc.) was previously entered into the Pedigree Resource File "a bunch of years ago." I guess my very first question is why did this person think that information was private or unavailable to anyone who wanted to copy it? What is more important however, is why did this person think this information was unavailable even without the prior posting to the Pedigree Resource File?

This post isn't about online family trees. didn't have anything to do with putting this person's information online and she seems to think that they have some obligation to police the names of the people who show up in submitted family trees. I further note, from the comment, that the person was putting the names in when she found they were already there. The person is apparently upset that, although she doesn't know how she is related, the man "has all my personal information and has shared it with the world." It seems pretty clear to me that the "sharing" part of all this happened a long time ago. Unfortunately, the person didn't indicate where the other person got the information., as do most all of the online family tree programs, has a clear privacy policy, however, as is the case with all online content, we have very little control about what other people put online.

Is the composition of your family and the identity of your family members private information? I am aware of any number of apps on Facebook that will go out and look for your family members. Likewise, there is a link on that will "Find family members on Facebook..." How long would it take me to find the details of your family, if I wanted to do so? Was your family ever mentioned in an obituary? Was there ever a newspaper story about your family?  Do you think the banks and credit agencies cannot access or FamilySearch Family Tree or any other online database?

There is a vast disparity between what this commentator and many people think is "private" and what is easily obtainable online.


  1. I agree. I constantly go back and forth with my husband about "privacy" and what is really private information. He is one of those people that thinks the more measures the government takes to protect privacy, the better. We were talking about the redaction of parents' names on the SS-5 applications. He thought it was a good idea. I told him that typically, parent-child relationships are not necessarily private information (except maybe in the cases of adoption). If someone dies, their children are going to likely be listed in the obituary in a newspaper that is available to the general public. Heck, even their residences, at least city/state, may be listed as well. I don't understand why some people think everything is so private. Perhaps it was the advent of the Internet that started making people think so much about privacy and over-extending the definition.

  2. I think the issue is not that the information is out there, but that it auto fills to anyone typing in partial names. MyHeritage shouldn't display information on living people to people other than the person who entered that information in an online tree. Ancestry stopped doing that a while ago, and now only displays information on the living to people specifically invited to see it by the original poster.

  3. Hi Taco
    Just to clarify, we do not expose details of living people in search. If someone discovers that information about them or their close family was posted on MyHeritage, even though this would not be accessible to others, we will always delete this information upon their request.