Here at Family History Daily we have spent a great deal of time researching free genealogy sites. While large paid websites can offer a wealth of information to family history researchers, there is a growing selection of no-cost genealogy databases available online that provide just as much value. These sites, which are generally made available through the work of dedicated organizations, local governments, and volunteers provide a staggering amount of data that would be nearly impossible to access otherwise.
Generally, these sites offer information on those who have passed long ago, meaning that privacy is no longer an issue. But sometimes data about living people can be found. This is true on many sites – such as Ancestry – where you might just as easily discover your own marriage record as that of your great great grandmother. But what happens when a site crosses the line? When they provide too much personal information about a living person and make it too easy to access?
One site is doing just that. Billed as a free genealogy research site, FamilyTreeNow.com offers a lot more than just old census and marriage records. They offer a very easy way to look up just about any living person to uncover their full name, aliases, birth year, age, relatives’ names, addresses and phone numbers dating back many years. And all of this information is presented on one single page for free, including a person’s current information. No sign up is needed, no digging through individual records.
You can search here to see if you (or family members) appear on the site. Every person we have searched for thus far we have found. To remove your data please follow the how-to at the bottom of this article.
Why is this a problem? While most of the information presented by FamilyTreeNow could be located in other ways, this site has compiled the information together in such a way that it makes it incredibly easy for anybody to get a comprehensive look at another living person’s personal data within seconds.
Could this information be used by a criminal to track down the address of a police officer? To more easily steal someone’s identity? Could it be used to take advantage of an elderly person? For mass marketing purposes? Even if this never happens – even if your information just sits there unaccessed – do you really feel comfortable with anyone anywhere in the world having full access to your name(s), current and past addresses, phone numbers, relatives’ names etc at the click of a button?
For many of us, the answer is no.
Most people understand that some information is in the public domain and can be found online whether we like it or not. But making it too easy to grab this information by compiling it all together in one location and making it open and free to access somehow crosses a line.
Genealogists generally follow certain rules when we share information online. We keep living people’s data private in our trees, we get permission before we share information with others, we take precautions and use respect for others’ personal data. We understand that the many documents, like the 1950 US Census, aren’t available to us yet because the privacy of living individuals in that census is important. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues sometimes, and varying opinions about what should be private and what should not but, overall, people who do family history research do so with respect and care – and most free genealogy research sites follow that same standards.
But it doesn’t feel like FamilyTreeNow is using these same precautions. It makes it too simple to access a large degree of personal information on living individuals, all in one location. This isn’t relevant genealogy information they are providing, it is personal data on living people who don’t even know that their information is accessible in this way.
Of course there are other sites that also offer this information to others but most require some sign up or payment. Is this better? No. But it does slow down the likelihood that your information will be accessed. However, if you find this concerning you will need to take some time to research which sites offer this information and opt-out of each (when possible).
If you’re not comfortable with having your (or your family members’) information available in this way you can have it removed from the site. Here’s how.
Step 1: Visit the opt-out page here to begin your search. This will lead you to a step-by-step on removing your information and then to a general search page. You must start your search on this opt-out page or you will not see the opt-out button however.
Step 2: Search for your name, or a family member’s name, to see if it can be found on the site. You made need to filter by Living People on the left sidebar.
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Step 3 : Once you have found the person you are searching for click on View Details and select the red opt-out button.
Step 4: Repeat as needed for each record you find of yourself (most people we searched for had just one record containing all of their information). Then repeat for each person in your family you want to remove. The site will only allow you to go through this process 4 times before it will stop your ability to opt out of record entries. Simply wait an hour or so and start the process again if you have more people to remove. FamilyTreeNow states that it may take 48 hours for a record to be removed, but we found that it happened much more quickly than that.
The Atlantic has an interesting article about this site and the privacy problem in general that you might like to read as well.
You might also like: Who Actually Owns the Family Tree You Have Online?