Did you see our new Privacy Policy?

+34 votes

Hi WikiTreers,

Lately our team has been consumed with preparations for the European's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Today the law went into full effect.

For background information:

I know that other community priorities have been pushed aside for this, and it's been frustrating for some of you. There are many improvements that were put on hold. Things should settle down now and we can start to move forward again. However, GDPR compliance is not something that will ever end. It's now a big part of what it means to operate WikiTree.

To some degree, this is as it should be. Privacy should be a constant concern. We should never relax about it. We should always be working to protect your privacy and give you more control over your personal information, whether or not you're a WikiTree member.

I actually do believe that WikiTree was not doing enough before to protect the privacy of living people. In particular, we were moving forward with some DNA-related features that would have opened a Pandora's box of privacy concerns. We were going to enable members to start collaborating on chromosome maps for ancestors. As a genealogist I'm still excited about that possibility, and I know it will happen -- someday we will be reconstructing our ancestors' DNA -- but it won't be happening here, at least not any time soon.

WikiTree needs to stay focused on our core mission, our collaborative family tree, and how to progress on this mission while still protecting the privacy of living people and remaining 100% free for everyone forever.

As you will see, unless you're a new member, we have made major changes to our privacy policy. Please read it at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Privacy_Policy and ask any questions you may have about it below. It's unlikely that I will be able to answer you here, but we will try to improve on any section of the privacy policy that is unclear.

Onward and, hopefully, upward,


in The Tree House by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
Thank you so much for all your work and the teams' work to keep WikiTree up and going. Like many others (especially data doctors), I have actively been adopting and sourcing death dates on orphans just so they didn't disappear (or become the charges of WikiTree-1, who must be exhausted today after adopting so many profiles).

We appreciate all of you who have had more than your plate would hold in the last few weeks.
The Tons of work done to meet GDPR and the great efforts made to protect privacy are a hugh achievements.

I know WikiTree is our main concern. But, is there any kind of GDPR waiver for Wikipedia?

Thanks for making the hard decisions.  It is ever easy balancing privacy concerns with sharing family details.  Because genealogy is family based this becomes even more of a challenge since a lot of family is still living.  

I adopted every profile born 1900 to today for surnames I care about.  I would like to start a free page where we can list the surnames we want to collaborate upon so people know who to contact to see if an unlisted profile still exists.   I won't be able to do this until after June 1 due to some challenges I have in closing a company right now.  But I think it is something we will all find beneficial.
Excellent! I love the new privacy rules, a long time coming and well done! Before I felt as if we were actually forced to not be private enough so this is very very good. It may take a bit of time for some to adjust but all will be well ... I have no doubt ... onward and upward indeed ~

Thanks Chris and the team(s) for all the hard work! And well stated N.Blacklock and JN Murphy! It's not the end of the world and we have (as Europeans and globally) even bigger challenges ahead, especially in the geo-political sphere (avoiding naming names and countries - some have very long toes and feet). This GDPR-directive will have an impact for certain but much about that impact and how it will work out in practice, is uncertain. Proof of time. In the meantime I'm thankful for the fact that we can still "surf" the net as it was called a decade or so ago, that there still is an "internet"; and also very much excited by the vast advances made in science and technology because of computing and algorithm. I'm looking forward to what datamining will have to offer mankind yet.

I'm not a big fan of the new privacy policy. It makes it more difficult to do genealogy work on my family tree, which is greatly affected by the new policy. I may have to find another way, outside of Wikitree, to work on and keep my family tree info so it won't disappear.
Just curious, are there any statistics on how many profiles were effected with a privacy change? Were all profiles with no dates effected?
Sue, I am not in a position to give you any numbers but I can say for certain that if a profile had no dates it was not affected. I found one yesterday that was open and had no dates but based on the marriage date if someone would put an estimated date for his birth he would go unlisted. I did not do so because it is an orphan profile and adding an estimated birth date would make it the responsibility of WikiTree's team. I can not give you a profile name because It was never on my watchlist and I do not remember who his spouse was.

5 Answers

+22 votes
Thank you Chris!  

It has taken me a good bit of time to digest this as it has for all of us, but now that it has happened, I am not nearly as upset as I thought I would be.  Yes, I lost some nieces & nephews, but I still know who they are and will continue to lobby their parents to join us and add their children.

The privacy changes are not nearly as bad as I thought it would be and I want to thank you for the fairly smooth change that the Team has managed to make happen.  Kudos to all of you for a job well done while facing the doubting folks like myself and quelling our fears!
by Cindy Lesure G2G6 Pilot (129k points)
+15 votes

I want to add my heartfelt thanks to Chris and everyone else at WikiTree who is working behind the scenes to make these very necessary changes and for assuaging everyone's concerns. 

There's a lot that needs to be said about privacy on WikiTree and this is a good start. 

I feel that I am one of the more privacy-conscious users on WikiTree and one of the reasons that I use WikiTree despite its very outward facing design and premise, is that the site takes pains to protect the privacy of the living (and even the recently deceased). WikiTree has provided a reasonable form of granular privacy control. For example, I can show my family tree without compromising the privacy of my parents who don't use WikiTree. In other ways, WikiTree also leaks a bit more data than I am comfortable with, and which might present a complete barrier to others who are even more privacy conscious or who have fewer social advantages.

Heavily involved genealogists, in my experience, are largely adverse to privacy protections and privacy rights and their consideration. Part of this is selection bias: both on the basis of self-interest (strong privacy protections often makes studying individuals and relationships more difficult), forum (i.e. WikiTree is very public and those with privacy concerns will not participate) but also because English services for Anglophones are a largely dominated by US citizens. Compare, for example, the restrictions faced by a Dutch professional genealogist, who cannot legally research living people or find living cousins, or in Germany where privacy laws were only recently relaxed to allow access to BMD records of the deceased by non-descendants, versus in the USA, where in states such as New York, a listing of all marriages is public record, obtainable with a FOI request. Such expectations regarding privacy have become embedded in WikiTree and if it's ever to be more than just a North American thing, assumptions and considerations will need to adapt.

Moreover, I have been taken aback by the rush to welcome police and law enforcement involvement in (genetic) genealogy communities and with the tools and databases of genetic genealogy. Given that (1) I don't believe that such databases should be unquestionably provided to law enforcement or government, especially given instances of historic (e.g. the Holocaust and genocides of indigenous peoples) and recent genocidal atrocities (e.g. the Rwandan genocide) and (2) that posting even my own personal test results can impinge on the privacy of hundreds of other close relatives by potentially identifying them without their consent and (3) that there is no reciprocal benefit to me or the community and (4) GEDmatch chose against the option to provide granular privacy controls, instead purposely welcoming use by law enforcement, hence I chose to remove my kits from GEDmatch. Such access is unthinkable under the laws of other countries, some of which have banned DNA tests in part because such concerns exist.

The presumption that we fully "own" our body's genetic data, thus free to do with it whatever we please, despite it having such strong implications for others to whom we are closely related, seems an extremely selfish ethical axiom or choice, about which debate within both the WikiTree community and the genealogy community at large has been sadly lacking and often outright suppressed. Listing a kit number, even our own kit number, or other forms of that data could be viewed as impinging on the privacy of others. Again, discussion is needed around this both to explore the ethics as well as to explore technological solutions (for example using encryption) and legal solutions (subpoena-proof data handling). 

To invite the largest range of users, we need to respect the privacy of both current users and potential users, and the privacy of those to whom they are connected with high regard. WikiTree has remained rather narrowly focused on North American genealogy and European genealogy as it works outward. I've joked that given how small and narrowly focused the "global tree" is, it could be easily overtaken solely by users in another country. That would be amazing - to have a truly global tree - but making it accessible to others means finding common ground on privacy that respect everyone; they may have different approaches. So far, our customs and practices have reflected the legal realities of the USA, so GDPR is one small step in this direction.

Perhaps WikiTree will need to further shift focus towards the dead — it was really interesting to discover that I'm a 10th cousin 1x removed from Meghan Markle or so many degrees from Kevin Bacon or Queen Elizabeth II — but really that's just icing on the cake of everything that's wonderful about WikiTree. Heaven knows there are multitudes of non-living people for us to work on! Globally, 5.5 billion people died in the from 1900 to 2000, yet there are only 17.5 million profiles on WikiTree and given the rate of loss of records, there's so much that can be done and needs to be done if this tree is to become a global one. 

My hope is that the GDPR will function as a teachable moment for all of us that we might pause and reflect on our individual and community practices around privacy and what it means to respect the privacy and rights of others, rather than simply griping or rebelling. 

Thanks again for all of your hard work, Chris and company. 

† In the USA alone, 137 million people died from 1950-2014. (65 years x 2.109 million per year)

‡ Provided that we respect the privacy rights of the undead 

by anonymous G2G6 Pilot (141k points)

One other thought, that didn't fit within the 8000 characters:

With the relatively recent changes to WikiTree's privacy policy regarding the profiles of deceased individuals, the concern presented was only with respect to the living, rather than to what privacy rights the dead may have, especially outside of Common Law countries. It's also a serious discussion, with regard to the interplay between death & social media & the internet. Read, for example:

Thank you for this thoughtful comment with an eye toward a wide range of concerns.
+10 votes

I sent an email to a bunch of my family who haven't joined WikiTree yet. I had a few things to tell them about recent stuff I've found in the family tree. In relation to the GDPR, I said this:

First, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect in the European Union today, and any company or web site which stores information about European Union citizens has to comply with the new rules. (If you've been wondering why you've gotten a flock of messages about privacy from various companies and web sites in the past few weeks, this would be why. Strictly speaking, companies don't have to apply the GDPR rules to non-EU citizens, but separating out their EU from non-EU clients would be too much like work, so everybody I deal with is applying the GDPR rules to everybody, just to be on the safe side.)

As far as WikiTree goes, the new rules mean that the profiles for all living people must be set to Unlisted (not Private, as they had been set before) unless they are WikiTree members, and the profiles of all living people under 13 have been deleted, unless their profiles are managed by one of their parents. That means that those of you who haven't joined WikiTree won't be able to find your own profiles, or those of any living relatives, because those profiles won't show up in searches anymore. (But fear not. If you want access, let me know and I'll send you an invitation so you can see and control your own profile.)

by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (714k points)
+4 votes
Just out of curiosity are you aware that China is exempt from the GDPR restrictions and it was targeted towards American online businesses?

I just thought I'd wing that out into the ether to let people chew on. It is odd however that China get exempt from a lot of things.
by Steven Tibbetts G2G6 Pilot (419k points)

Hi Steven,

Your comment here piqued my curiosity, in part due to the vagueness and the strange implication that you seem to be attempting to advance. 

First, you advance the belief that "China is exempt". It is unclear what you mean here by "China": Do you mean the country China or "China" as representing all its people and their various enterprises? Let's consider the first take: China is a country with its own governement, and since Government A cannot impose a law on Government B unless it is somehow subordinate to Government A, naturally "China" is exempt; as is Canada, Brazil, Nigeria, and the good ol' USofA. The GDPR does not apply to any of them because they are sovriegn entities.1 

For the second option, meaning Chinese enterprises, allow me to clarify for you what the law actually targets: In broad strokes, the GDPR applies to any organization that is based in the European Union (EU) or operates in the EU which deals (in any way) with information about people, especially if they are residents of the EU. It does not apply to an enterprise in China which only deals with clients who are residents of China, nor does it apply to an American enterprise which deals only with US residents' data. However the problem is that if a business operates internationally, it's very difficult to ascertain the locations of the users. An online entity could have users declare, "I do not reside in the EU" as a condition of use, but most online entities are interested in expanding globally, hence they choose to be subject to the GDPR.2 

Many of the internet companies operating in China have a rather unique situation: They exist within a separate pool, walled off from the larger ocean of the Internet, courtesy of China's "Great Firewall". If you live in China, you can't use Facebook, so you use the app or website sanctioned by the Chinese government. Moreover, as those websites and apps openly share information with the Chinese government, foreign users are rare. There's a 6 minute mini-documentary on YouTube that explains the internal success of Chinese online enterprises very well: "How China Is Changing Your Internet", The New York Times, 2016-08-09, https://youtu.be/VAesMQ6VtK8

Searching to find a source for your assertion ultimately leads only to Infowars and Alex Jones. (Really, one should always source their own assertions - quoth the honor code, "We cite sources."4) Here are screenshots of relevant search results: https://i.imgur.com/FyLMq4Z.png and https://i.imgur.com/fu9Irhy.png

As a genealogist, one should be well-practiced in the art of evaluating sources.5 So let us evaluate Alex Jones and Infowars as a source. Because, as we both affirmed when signing WikiTree's Honor Code, "We care about accuracy".4 

First we can look to the evaluations made by others. Independent bias- and fact-checking organizations including PolitiFact, Media Bias Fact Check, AllSides, and Snopes have all found serious issues of bias and credibility with information disseminated by Infowars and Alex Jones.6  

Jones' own lawyers have submitted in court that “He's playing a character,” and, “He is a performance artist.” They go on to describe his work as “satire” and “sarcasm”.7 When challenged, he frequently outright denies his own statements, despite them having been broadcast, recorded, and published by him or his company.8 He is currently facing a multi-party defamation lawsuit on account of his false statements regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, having alleged on numerous occasions and in numerous formats that it is a "hoax".9 Jones was also heavily involved in spreading and furthering the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory, which has been widely debunked;10 he later formally retracted his statements.11

I could go on, but suffice to say that this casts a dark shadow on the man's character with regard to the truth and honesty. So I hope that you will agree with me, Steven, that Infowars and Alex Jones are unreliable sources and information from him should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Again, harkening back to the Honor Code, I understand that "mistakes are inevitable" and I "assume that mistakes (such as this) are unintentional".4 Most of all, I sincerely hope that you won't repeat this specific mistake. 


Here are the sources that support my assertions:

1. Wikipedia: "Sovreign state", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_state
2. Wikipedia: "General Data Protection Regulation: Scope", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Data_Protection_Regulation#Scope
3. "How China Is Changing Your Internet", The New York Times (YouTube Channel), 2016-08-09, https://youtu.be/VAesMQ6VtK8
4. WikiTree: Wiki Genealogist Honor Code, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Special:Honor_Code
5. a. FamilySearch Wiki: "Evaluate the Evidence", https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Evaluate_the_Evidence; b. "How can kids figure out what's credible news and what's fake news?", Common Sense Media, 2017, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/news-and-media-literacy/how-can-kids-figure-out-whats-credible-news-and-whats-fake-news
6. a. http://www.politifact.com/personalities/alex-jones/, b. https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/infowars-alex-jones/, c. https://www.allsides.com/news-source/infowars, d. https://www.snopes.com/tag/infowars/
7. "Alex Jones should not be taken seriously, according to Alex Jones’s lawyers", The Washington Post, 2017-04-17: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/04/17/trump-called-alex-jones-amazing-joness-own-lawyer-calls-him-a-performance-artist/
8. "Is Alex Jones’s Empire In Trouble?", Texas Monthly, 2018-04-20: https://www.texasmonthly.com/news/is-alex-jones-empire-in-trouble/
9. "More families of Sandy Hook victims, FBI agent sue Infowars' Alex Jones", Chicago Tribune, 2018-05-23, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-sandy-hook-alex-jones-lawsuit-20180523-story.html
10. Wikipedia: "Pizzagate conspiracy theory", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizzagate_conspiracy_theory
11. "Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Apologizes For Promoting 'Pizzagate'", NPR, 2017-03-26, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/26/521545788/conspiracy-theorist-alex-jones-apologizes-for-promoting-pizzagate

Oh THAT is hilarious. I was referring to the fact that the businesses are partly or wholly owned by the government thus meaning you would be trying to sue a country which is exempt from the rule. I suppose I could have listed Venezuela as well using the same idea.

But instead you somehow managed to drag Alex Jones into this and turn it into a political debate. I absolutely love argument "5A :No text is found on this page". Now as far as the lies, slander, and half-truths about Alex Jones, would you like to explain how my small statement about China caused your bias to show?

If I sued you for running over me in your car 10 years ago and you had absolute proof that such a thing was impossible so I later dropped the suit, do you know the papers could still accurately say that you were sued by me for running over me 10 years ago?

Did you know that if a woman brings sexually related charges against a man and they go to court where the charges are dropped, it still shows the allegation in job background checks? I know people this HAS happened to.

Do you know Snopes and Politifact have been caught blatantly lying?

Are you aware "Pizzagate" started from the codes used by those wanting to order children for unspeakable acts and it was the media that targeted the pizza place?  And oddly enough that shooter fired 1 bullet which magically entered a back closet and destroyed the harddrive on the computer they had there.

Conspiracy Theorist is not a curse word. It is a factual word meaning someone who has a theory about events done by more than one person working together to accomplish it. And also bear in mind, calling an opinion a fact does not make it so. Otherwise people would start believing insane things like white people started slavery and we kidnapped them from Africa, or the conspiracy theory on the pay gap for women, or that vaccines are 100% safe.
+4 votes

On both "My WikiTree" Navigation page and on "Your Contributions" it says:

You edited the Biography for [unlisted]. 

I understand is saying "unlisted" on "Your Contributions", because other people can access that page. 

But I am the only one who can access "My WikiTree". Why can't WikiTree display the name on that page?  It makes things extra confusing.

by Janet Gunn G2G6 Pilot (170k points)

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