Is our privacy a myth?

+26 votes
WikiTree's privacy standards for living and recent people have always seemed reasonable to me, although it is frustrating to bump into great-aunts and great-grand parents who are recent enough that someone else has already set their privacy to the point that I can't just edit them without asking permission.

And even the policy that if I die without a WikiTree will or designated person to take it over, the contents of my own profile could be destroyed for the sake of privacy has seemed cautious rather than too extreme.

But recently I looked at my profile on and it had all sorts of "hints" of things I could add -- information Ancestry had helpfully found elsewhere on the internet.  The ship I got on in Norway at the age of 9.  The date and place of my first divorce.  Where I lived 20 years ago.  Who I'm married to now.  This is all public information available to anyone in the world,  that the machine found on routine searches.  

Which makes me wonder, "who are we kidding?"  And "are basically trying to protect public information which is accessible to everyone, and would WikiTree be improved if we narrowed the field of the information we're trying to protect, because basically, the horse has already gotten out of the barn?

I don't know the answer to this, but it seemed like a useful question to ask!
in Policy and Style by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
Dear Jack,

The horse is out of the barn, but we can still follow its tracks.

As a genealogist, if your bank wants to use your mother's maiden name for security - DO NOT DO IT.  Make up a name that you will remember. For me this was completely necessary as my mother IS STILL USING hers!

We need to be careful and smart to protect our information.  It seems that most genealogists, who are good detectives, are not using their findings for ill purposes.  My information is here BECAUSE of the extra protections available compared to the subscription place you mentioned.  Better to be a bit cautious, in my opinion.   -NGP
Nanette, I would up-vote and make your answer best if it were an answer. Very well put. Mags

5 Answers

+7 votes
Our privacy is definitely a myth especially for living persons. If you just do a search for yourself and your nearest family on Google you will be surprised how much info is out there.
by Esmé van der Westhuizen G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
+8 votes
Well, yes.  But between the people who don't realize how much information there is out there and the constant advertisments for you to pay money to be protected from the bad guys, people imagine they can be protected simply by not letting people know they exist.  But I'm willing to go along with this fantasy if it makes them happy.  In any case, the privacy rules on Wikitree serves another purpose which is more important.  Protection from messed up profiles.  It's sort of like the purpose of the balance of powers which underlies the US Constitution.  Things are made slow and a bit clunky when it comes to certain activities so that individuals can't wreck too much havoc if they're either ignorant of how genealogy/government works or have a chip on their shoulder.  The alternative is despotism.
by Living Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (449k points)
+5 votes

Really I feel it's there simply because it's a feature that a significant portion of users want. But yes, someone can find most if not all the information online, public records for information on individuals, and obituaries for connections. The thing that really bugs me is that I cannot send people to this page:

People should be able to see my ancestor list, but instead they see: "Sorry, this profile is Private and you are not on the profile's Trusted List." My profile is set to "Private with Public Biography and Family Tree". So the information in the ancestor list isn't private, but they have to click through my relatives manually until they get to the first non living relative and click ancestor list on those 7 people. And of course it's a pain the other way around, when examining a match with a living person.


by Russ Dill G2G3 (3.1k points)
It's not quite as bad as you make out.  When I went to your profile the Family Tree and tools button is there and works, which shows the small photos of you  and the next two generations and then the remaining two generations without pictures.  That's how I normally look at someone with a private profile.  I think you can set things not to show the tree, but it's not the default.
The shareable tree only shows 4 generations, the ancestor list shows 7.
+6 votes
"Privacy protection" is very much like locks or burglar alarms on your home...basically they are there for honest people. If a dishonest person wants to break into your home or steal your personal information they can and will. I agree with you Jack, it makes more sense to have more limited parameters, however I think a lot of people would not have the "feeling" of security necessary to stay on WikiTree.
by Brett Rutherford G2G6 Pilot (130k points)
+4 votes
Certainly much of your 'public information' may be available through Ancestry, Google, and innumerable other sites - part of the reason for privacy settings however is to allow people to feel comfortable recording some of the stories and experiences that are not typically part of the public record so that they are recorded for posterity.
by Rob Ton G2G6 Pilot (297k points)

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