Technology

This Website Can Give Your Personal Information To Anyone Who Wants It

And it's totally legal.

Pretty much the last thing you want in this day and age is for anyone on the internet to have your private information. Be it your social security number, zip code or otherwise, it’s best that all of this information stays with you. Unfortunately, one website is making it easy as 1-2-3 for anyone on the ‘net to access a veritable fount of information about you—and it’s totally legal.

The “genealogy” website called FamilyTreeNow makes public almost anyone’s information. This includes their addresses (current and former), age, family members and possible associates. If that’s not scary enough, here’s the kicker: It’s available for free to any user.

Though Twitter user and writer Anna Brittain sent out a lengthy thread of tweets with information about how to opt out (more on how to do this later), the scary truth is that this sort of dissemination of information is nothing new.

On FamilyTreeNow, all you need is someone’s first name, last name and state to look them up. According to an article from Consumerist, most of the team there was able to look themselves up and find “a significant volume of data available on demand and available to anyone.” We just tried it, and found similar results.

Photo by Johan Larsson
Photo by Johan Larsson
Photo by Johan Larsson

The FamilyTreeNow website claims to have “billions of historical records, including census (1790-1940) records, birth records, death records, marriage & divorce records, living people records, and military records.” Most of this is pretty basic when it comes to a genealogy site, but the records for “living people” are a swift departure from the norm.

Unsurprisingly, the internet has been in an uproar since this information has been released. Obviously nobody wants to learn that a massive amount of private information is available for free on the web. Luckily, opting out of the system seems to be pretty effective.

In order to make sure your data is not available in the FamilyTreeNow database, visit their privacy policy and follow the directions to scrub your data from their site. Be patient, though, because the server has been overloaded with traffic since Britain’s tweets.

According to Consumerist, the site has been flooded with opt-out requests, so if you’re getting bounced from the site or receive an error message, just give it a little time and try again.

That being said, some users have experienced bugs when it comes to opting out. While most people haven’t had a problem, some have said that 24 hours later their data reappears on the site. If you want to opt out, make sure you follow up a few times to make sure your data is fully hidden and there are no issues.

computer
ilyapavlov/Unsplash

So now the big question—how is this website legal? Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that most of this information is available through public records. Public data is available to, well, the public. Police, governments and journalists tend to call on public records most often. You can also pay to get data about almost anyone through various public and private businesses.

This data isn’t protected by the law because it’s the same data anyone can access through courthouse or vital records bureaus. Unfortunately, now anyone can access that same data online for free, regardless of how they want to use it. Since the data isn’t legally protected, it’s all fair game.

On top of that, there’s no overarching federal law that governs privacy law. FamilyTreeNow can do whatever it wants, so long as it actually abides by anything it states in its privacy policy. And because most users report the opt-out process really works, FamilyTreeNow appears to be operating by its stated privacy terms.

So what now? Well, if you’re concerned, definitely opt out of the FamilyTreeNow service. And remember to be cautious about where and how you store private information. The internet is a double-edged sword.