I'm a bit conflicted about asking this question, but it has been bothering me so why not ask?

I recently attended a genealogy workshop where the instructor said that he would NEVER use THE major online genealogy website (notice how I'm cleverly avoiding the actual name).

His rationale was "because they will willingly sell my data and my research" thus profiting from my work without my knowledge or consent. Moreover, they would be "invading" my privacy.

While I had never considered this to be an issue, or to be something I should be concerned about, I wondering if there is something that I'm not recognizing.

  • 6
    They could hardly be selling your research without your consent -- by putting it on the website, you're consenting to have them use it within their terms and conditions... And they couldn't be doing it without your knowledge for the same reason. They may well be profiting from it (they wouldn't host it if they weren't) but they're not lying to you about what they're doing with it.
    – user6485
    Jan 16, 2019 at 10:29
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    Also, how can they be 'invading your privacy' when they only know what you choose to tell them? You control what information you give them (and yes, you might naively give them more than you intended, but it's on you to do the due diligence). Plus most research is based on publicly available data so how can that be private? (You might not want to give away the fruits of your labours, but that's a different question). And making DNA data available is a whole other can of worms.
    – user6485
    Jan 16, 2019 at 14:01
  • Agreed that DNA is a whole 'nuther thing, but the focus was on just genealogic records and relationships. I can see his point if a user scans a private letter or a picture into a gallery of a public tree, that image is available to all other users, and having done so, there should be no expectation of privacy. (In fact access to other's public galleries is a selling point for membership). OTOH, if a subscriber has a private tree there should be an expectation of privacy. Have there been any instances where private tree data been sold or otherwise released?
    – BobE
    Jan 16, 2019 at 15:36
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    I can't confirm that something has never happened. However, Ancestry's User Interface shows the Ancestry user name against each tree. I really have no idea what people fear about Ancestry. I think that people simply object to money being brought into the equation, thinking that everything should be free, because if Family Search can do it, why can't Ancestry? FS, of course, profits in a different way.
    – AdrianB38
    Jan 17, 2019 at 15:38
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    But it's equally impossible for me to know whether there's been any such report! I don't have access to Ancestry's error reporting, nor have I read all the mailing lists in all the world. All I can say is that I don't remember seeing any credible suggestions of unattributed use.
    – AdrianB38
    Jan 17, 2019 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


Your instructor has turned things quite around.

When a person signs up to an online genealogy website, or any website or social site for that matter, there is an agreement that must be approved, that states what the company may do. (Ignore for now that most people don't read this and just check the box.) If the person checks the box, then they have given consent and have knowledge of what the company could do with their data.

With regards to privacy, if a person puts their own family tree or any other social information on a public site, then they are effectively giving up their privacy themselves.

So if your instructor wants to be paranoid, and think everyone, especially the big companies, are after him, he can stay off the Internet and spend the rest of his life trying to expunge his name from government records and online directories.

If his concerns were truly an issue, then there would be millions of people who would be finding their data in other repositories due to sales and would be complaining of privacy invasion. But there aren't. His presumption is false.

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