Should WikiTree Allow Living Notables to be Visible? [closed]

+58 votes

Hi WikiTreers,

In 2018 WikiTree made some changes to the way living people were handled in response to the European Union's "General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)". You can read the previous announcement here. One of those changes was to make the profiles of all living people Unlisted privacy unless they had a WikiTree account. A casualty of this change was that the profiles of living notables were no longer visible to members.

Should WikiTree allow the privacy of living notables to be opened up again?

How I envision it could work:

  • For a profile to be considered eligible, they would need to be notable enough to have an entry at WikiData, and they cannot be a child. There would be a marker on the profile, similar to Project Protection, that could be set by Project Leaders.
  • The living notable would need to be managed by a project. This could be the Notables Project, or it could be a project related to the profile such as the US Presidents Project.
  • The information on the profile would need to be information that is public knowledge. WikiTree would need to have similar rules to what Wikipedia has, where the information has to come from widely published sources or information the person has released themselves. Public figures still deserve privacy, and we don't want to include any information they wouldn't want to be published.
  • Living family members of notables would remain Unlisted, unless those family members are also notable.
  • We would not allow DNA test information to be added to the profile.
  • If the notable or one of their nuclear family members requests it, WikiTree would make the profile Unlisted again, or remove it entirely.

Any thoughts? I've posted an answer for "yes" and one for "no" that you can upvote or comment on, or if you have questions you can post another answer below.

Edit: I'll make a second draft addressing the concerns expressed below and will post a new proposal sometime next week.

in Policy and Style by Jamie Nelson G2G6 Pilot (377k points)
closed by Chris Whitten
I have thought long and hard on this as the US Presidents Project lead.   I can live with the fact that we do not open up the profiles.   What I think we need to change is the rule that living notables cannot be mentioned.

This goes to the number of critiques that the project received when we posted the need to work on the ancestry of the new US President and Vice President.....clearly, it was an error on our part by mentioning their names on G2G.   That is really what needs to be fixed.
I could live with moving them up one click on the Privacy dial - to Red privacy. At least then the basic information could be seen, and less duplicates would be made.

I don't understand why anyone would object to private with public tree.  

Living individuals attached to the notable would still be invisible, unless they, too, are notable enough to require a more open profile.

I've never  understood the thing about jumping on even the mention of a living person, when the stricture was (is) against discussing their genealogy in public.  I agree with Robin that this really needs to be addressed.

I came across this page on the BBC, and wondered where Wikitree is currently in regard to living notables?  That page discusses in some detail all the nearest living heirs to Elizabeth II of England, down to her newest great-grandchild - an infant.  I cannot help to wonder why Wikitree keeps a stricter standard than those living elsewhere.

To my understanding, the requester received a good amount of feedback with a number of different approaches and recommendations towards what people are interested in seeing. I believe the next step is to put forth a new proposal based on the feedback received, as there were a lot of different recommendations that will need to be reconciled in some fashion. Hopefully we'll see the new proposal soon.
Scott, the note on closing says "sometime next week".  That was on the 25th March. This is now the 19th April, almost a month later.  I thought it was fair to ask what the status is.
No worries, Melanie. I was only providing what I'd heard about where this was going, but it's certainly a valid question. I suspect the answer is that they're still deciding exactly how to carefully word their next proposal, so that we don't hop down too many bunny-holes (but of course we probably will).
Re-writing the proposal got pushed down in priority on my to-do list but it's still on my radar.
We are getting close to finishing a new proposal. I'm going to close this conversation for now.

10 Answers

+101 votes
Yes, I think the privacy of living notables should be opened up.

Please vote up this answer if you agree, and add any comments below if you have them.
by Jamie Nelson G2G6 Pilot (377k points)

I know in the US there are birth and marriage indexes available for living people.   Mine is out there.
Jelena, English marriage registrations of that period are freely available on FamilySearch never mind the GRO.

I know in the US there are birth and marriage indexes available for living people.   Mine is out there.

commented by Robin Lee 


I have a 90-plus-year-old aunt by marriage whose birth record is also "out there", and I have had to fight to keep her off FamilySearch (although she has no objections to being added to Wikitree). 

Sonuvagun! I discovered that my marriage record is on Ancestry. I did not know that...
Contemporary newspaper coverage of royal weddings etc would be considered primary sources.  I agree that the actual marriage certificate is the most primary but that would be unreasonable.  Every time a new royal is born it news headlines around the world so I would consider that as a primary source.

For example Prince Philip died yesterday. It’s been reported in tweets, newsfeeds etc around the world.  I don’t need to see his death certificate to know he has died.  Newspapers report that to us all.  This is the type of sourcing we can use for notables and not be breaking the legislation.
@Jelena - there's an image of the marriage register for one Philip Mountbatten and Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on Wikimedia Commons.

Images of birth and marriage certificates for a few living British Royals are available online.

And ^^^ what they said.
I think that it is much more respectful of the privacy of super-famous living notables to base their profiles on newspaper reports, Wikipedia, and similar widely circulated sources than it would be to display or quote their birth and marriage certificates on this website.
In the case of the British Royal family, in recent generations they have chosen to release the BDM certificates into the public domain, which meets the criteria in the proposal. In some countries public access to BDM records of living people is legal.
I would like to see Living Notables profiles opened to at least Public (green) or Yellow status, just so we can prevent duplicates and be able to see their connections. Also at least one or both of their parents should be deceased in order for the entre line of descent to be seen.

I have a number of notable profiles that i created and linked, and who all went unlisted when the GDPR rules came into effect. I would like others to be able to see those profiles again!!!

I would have to agree with spouses and children to remain private (unlisted) and ONLY the notable be public.
Yes. By all means, put some controls on it, but if they can have profiles on Wikipedia, which often lists wives, parents, children, or siblings, why not have notables on here. Perhaps a discussion could be had on what controls would be necessary. Like a living person not being able to be presented, unless it is protected by a project, with predetermined limitations for privacy.
+26 votes
No, I think the privacy of living notables should remain Unlisted.

Please vote up this answer if you agree, and add any comments below if you have them.
by Jamie Nelson G2G6 Pilot (377k points)
I just want to point out that just because a person has a Wikidata entry or Wikipedia entry that doesn't mean their profile on WikiTree will be changed from Unlisted privacy. If there was any possible controversy or privacy issues surrounding a profile, it could remain Unlisted or locked to editing. It would be up to the project managing the profile.

Also, I don't see how this diverges from the purpose of the site. The original people in the connection finder were all living individuals, and the only reason that notables were made private was because of a wait-and-see approach to the GDPR rules. After 3 years, it was time to revisit this.
I am against any privacy level changes that will display the personal data of any living profiled individual to non-WikiTreers. I am against any exceptions to this general privacy rule, as per the potential for legal problems.

I can see the benefit of allowing WikiTreers (possibly limited to Honor Code/Wiki Genealogists) to see the personal data for Unlisted profiles, but I don't believe we should expose that data outside

Perhaps one of the superfluous Privacy+ levels (I suggest Private with Public Biography) could be retooled as a Notables privacy level.

In my opinion, this decision is a website owner/management decision. Hopefully, they will keep the potential legal nightmares in mind when they make the final decision.
Honor Code/WikiTree Genealogists would definitely NOT be a criterion for seeing unlisted profiles.  It's much too easy to obtain those statuses, so no protection for the Unlisted profiles.

Hi Jamie.

How do you reconcile the Wikipedia rules on Biographies of living persons which adhere strictly to all applicable laws in the United States with the GDPR laws on which WikiTree has based its rules?

Are you saying that the GDPR based rules on WikiTree are now to be abandoned?

With tens of thousands of deceased notables with entries in Wikipedia who don't have profiles on WikiTree yet, I really don't understand this obsession with living celebrities. Aren't they being hounded enough by paparazzi, gossip shows, gossip magazines, and cyberstalkers? Leave them alone, and honour notables from the past! If we were running out of deceased notables to document, it would be one thing, but out of the 13 surnames I have tallied so far (Crozier, French, Gerschefske, Kelso, McNair, Miller, Pudder, Slade, Waddell, Welch, West, Westfall, and White), I've identified 596 deceased notables with those surnames as their Last Name At Birth on Wikipedia, and only 232 of those (38.9%) have profiles on WikiTree. Multiply that by the hundreds of surnames on WikiTree, and you begin to grasp the sheer number of deceased notables who have been neglected so far. So why are so many people obsessing about living people, when there are so many deceased people yet to be commemorated?

Second Greg's motion!
Add to Greg's very valid point that there are tons of profiles already in existence for deceased notables that are nothing more than a copy and paste of an entire Wikipedia article, or from a dictionary of biography. There's more than enough work to do on those profiles.
Well said Greg, I 110% agree.

But... those profiles will potentially generate a lot of traffic thus money, so isn't that the real question here?
If this proposal is one brought about by revenue considerations, that should probably be stated.
As many above, I'm vehemently against such a change.

First, who is notable? A lot of useless conflicts ahead.

Second, as Greg pointed, zillions of dead people who can qualify as notable have no WT profiles.
+23 votes
I agree that privacy should be opened up 'for visibility', but only allow editing by the PM or Project.  Allowing anyone to edit profiles of Living profiles can cause inappropriate or incorrect information to be added, requiring the Project and PMs to be much more diligent.

Project Protection currently allows others to Edit the profile, but cannot change relationships. Living Notable profiles should remain locked to editing until the normal 'Open Profile' timeframe occurs after their death. Comments can be added with information and PM or Project could add the information.

The proposal, as stated, does not clearly indicate, if anyone would be able to edit the profile of Living Notables.
by Linda Peterson G2G6 Pilot (546k points)
WikiTree already has the ability to prevent editing as described.

The least restrictive setting available for profiles of living people is Private with Public Biography and Family Tree. This means that the profile can be edited only by people on the Trusted List. This is how the profiles of living WikiTreers are treated -- and it is how the profiles of living notables were treated before the advent of GDPR led to them being converted to Unllisted.
We were imagining that profiles marked with the "notable" designation could be any privacy -- Open through Unlisted, at the discretion of the project managing the profile.
Jamie, when I posted this, no one in the Yes Group had said anything about limiting who can edit these profiles.  Now, there are several posting in that group that agree that they should not be edited outside of the PM / Project.  I don't think it should be responsibility of Projects to lock the editing.  I think that should be a system requirement, as it is with Member profiles.
I will have to reconsider my vote if there is any possibility that living profiles become Open or even Public. I had assumed the Notable profiles would not be any more opened than they were pre-GDPR, and that was Yellow Privacy. If profiles are allowed to be Open that indeed opens the way to edit wars. If they are Public anyone can see content that was previously removed through the Changes log. IMO that could quickly become unmanageable, especially if the criteria on Notability is so low (Wikidata has imported, for instance, anyone who is in the or Genealogics databases, including living children and intensely private families. It also contains many entries with no info at all, no dates, no places and sometimes not even given names).
I'd have to think a full-open approach through for a long time before I'd commit to something along those lines. My approach is similar to Robin Lee and the Presidents project. Aim for Yellow privacy in the beginning and we can examine what additional changes might be warranted after the dust has settled. I won't rule anything out, but at the same time, I have the same concerns about details that should not be included. If we have profiles with key personal information that can't be shared, they probably won't make it to the open biography status. We'll just have to deal with those on a case-by-case basis. There might also have to be a bit of sanitizing before certain parts can be opened. That might depend heavily on availability of people to get that part done. This could end up being a slow process.
+9 votes
I do agree with you Linda Peterson...

It would be a good idea, but more like a "Preview" that provides very basic information, but while the notable is thankfully still living, can only be edited by (what I would call) the "PPM" (Project & Profile Manager).

If Wikipedia provides certain basic information for a Notables, then why not provide this limited Preview like view.

If someone has a question, correction, etc... then they could comment or private message.

I hope I had explained this okay via text... :-))

~Brian Kerr
by Anonymous Kerr G2G6 Pilot (308k points)
+11 votes
I have mixed feeling on this. Personally, I would love to see more openness regarding "notable" profiles. It seems silly, for example, that we can't see the profile of living ex-presidents when that information is so easily obtainable so many other places. At the same time I would be concerned about who is considered notable and what information is considered permissible to post.

I checked out a random living notable on Wikipedia and discovered that not only were the names of her minor children posted, but so were each of their exact birthdates (they are notable only for being her children). With that as an example, I think we are opening the door to a very slippery slope here and I'm not sure our project managers would be equipped to monitor the 1000s of profiles this would suddenly open up.
by David Randall G2G6 Mach 4 (41.8k points)
Presumably, each one would have to be opened by its PM, so it wouldn't need to be a sudden wholesale change.
+10 votes
I assume that this proposal to weed out the duplicates that occur to the fact that living notables are hidden.  I can't imagine how many duplicates are/have existed for some people.

I would support opening the profiles visibilities but echo comments that they be managed appropriately and that only trusted persons be allowed to edit.  I would further posit that the trusted list be vetted based on some criteria (that likely exists in Wikitree rules) so that we aren't subject to notable "hoarders" or overrun with multiple managers.

So privacy settings could be set to either public (with limited access) or up to "Private with public bio"
by Kathryn Penner G2G6 Mach 2 (26.6k points)
+8 votes

Has WikiTree management assessed the legal ramifications of this proposed change?

Is Norbert's comment that GDPR does not apply to persons of public interest correct - does GDPR specifically state that?

by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (222k points)
The GDPR rules were taken into account by management before this proposal was made. This proposal is mostly to see if this is something the community wants, not for the WikiTree community to discuss if it's legal or not.
What does it matter what membership wants if it is not legal? In my opinion, membership should always consider the legalities of any policy changes.

I believe my questions are relevant to this discussion. I would especially want an answer to my 2nd question.
GDPR would have no bearing on notables living outside the EU so a yes/no should not depend entirely on the GDPR rules.
By the same token Jamie, although WikiTree was started in the US, there are notables who are neither in the US nor in Europe, and the laws of each country are not the same.  

We also don't want to fall into a ''papparazzi'' slot (if that's how it's spelled).
Thanks for answering my questions, Jamie.

GDPR was just an example, since it was the primary rationale for making profiles for living non-members unlisted in the first place.
Lindy, your concern for WT's legal liability is reasonable, but I would rather rely on WT management to make that determination.  Given the information about living celebrities that can be found all over the internet, much of it probably more critical and damaging than we would ever post, can it really be that dangerous for WT to simply reveal profiles?

I think revealing celebrity profiles would be likely to give WT more credibility, rather than us looking like some odd little website with eccentric rules.
Anyone can sue anyone for any reason, and they dont have to win to tie up funds. If this holds the risk of sinking the ship, we should back away rather than risk taking the site down over wanting movie stars' profiles opened up.
Not our decision.
I do not think this is about movie stars.
Julie, I would prefer to be told upfront that WikiTree management thoroughly considered the legalities and potential risks before they made this proposal, rather than presuming that they did.

I am no more concerned with notable profiles than I am with profiles for non-notables. I don't feel that the rules for notable profiles should be different than the rules for non-notable profiles. In my opinion, we should respect the privacy rights for ALL living profiled individuals.

Of course, I realize that my viewpoint is the minority viewpoint. However, as long as I have sufficient relevant information on which to base my opinion, I will accept the final decision.
I agree that the message could have been more explicit, but as Jamie is a Team member, I doubt she would have posted without agreement from the Team.

On what some people may or may not consider a related matter--it seems like it would be a good improvement to G2G if, when people post, they are identified by their most important title, rather than Pilot, Astronaut, etc.  Instead:  Leader, Moderator, Team...
Living notables could relocate to the EU at any time.
I recently removed unsupported salacious gossip from a notable profile. It involved someone else who is still living, and their loved ones are also living. These days the media is so invasive in the lives of notables, and the gossip often outrageous, so opening up the profiles of living notables could increase the amount of policing necessary to maintain polite standards.
+7 votes
I cannot understand why the managers of these living notable peoples profiles are reluctant to contact these living people and obtain their permission to open the profiles. Even if you put aside the legal arguments, why would WikiTree not want to extend a simple courtesy to these living people. After all it is our honour code to do so.
You never know you might make a new WikiTree friend who might turn out to be a great ambassador for WikiTree.
Surely it is not our intention that we want the editorial freedom to write what we "legaly" want to and that obtaining a living persons permission might hamper this?
by Louis Heyman G2G6 Mach 7 (71.4k points)
+5 votes
I agree with opening a highly notable profile providing their parents are both deceased. I also agree with only allowing it if they are highly publicize sources, nothing too controversial until notables immediate family have signed off or have passed or via the notable's own autobiography. Keep their non-notable relations whom are still living unless they are notables unlisted as well. You can give them that basic profile without overstepping privacy of family members. Save controversial sections for after their spouses and offspring have passed or again the notable writes about it.

Biography can be limited to profile managers and top sourcing guides.

I am also good with leaving it as is. You can trace back a few generations via Wikipedia and other sources enough to find connection.
by Elizabeth Korf G2G1 (1.4k points)
edited by Elizabeth Korf
+5 votes
Yes I would like to see living notables visible on wikitree.
by N Gauthier G2G6 Pilot (152k points)

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