is free, private and secure! – I’m thinking not!

Last week I was sent an invitation by a ‘distant’ cousin to his my website. We are related through our common ancestor, my GGG grandmother. I am connected through her first marriage and he is connected through her second marriage. I logged in and the first thing I noticed that there were quite a number of people in the ‘database’. Many of these names I was able to see were of ‘living’ people and all of the personal data, photos could be accessed. Not one person’s details that was shown to still be living were hidden. I ignored this at the time and didn’t think too much else about it, and thought that I would comment about seeing these details at a later time seeing that I had other more important family issues to deal with.

Today I find out that I am no longer a member of the site. Why? Because yesterday I took a closer look and I actually found my mother, my two uncles and some details of some other of my close living relatives on the site. I have never given this person any information about my immediate family.

Whenever I exchange information with someone, I always provide a gedcom file that only goes to my great grandparents.  I sent an email to the site owner yesterday with the following:

“I have removed all details relating to living people that are directly connected to me from your site. I don’t understand how you would have this information as I never provide details about living persons on my family tree to ANYONE. When I exchange data with someone, I only provide a gedcom file down to my great grandparents, so I am again unsure how you have information on the 3 next generations. Can you let me know who provided this information to you? Also, when other people provide me data, sometimes they provide details on all generations even for those that are living (like you did,). My policy is that I normally do NOT upload the information on the living people given to me to my legacy family tree database and if I do, I then mark them as both living and their details as being private and not available for publication. Please show me the courtesy of not publishing the details of my living relatives on your website as I do for you”

Was I wrong in doing this? Apparently yes, as the response I got this morning was:  ‘my website is a private site open only to family members and they don’t object!!!!”.

I’m sorry but I do object. I object to having details about my immediate family available to be seen by people I don’t know and are technically not related to my family and if they are, then they are very distant. Just like I object to seeing the private details of people I don’t know. And I still question how he obtained the details of my mother, my uncles and other members. I’ll be honest I am not sure who he would have received these details from.

On My Hertiage, a  private site, means that “– The Family Site and Family Tree will be accessible only to site members and webmasters”.

I actually feel sick in the stomach to think that this person has gone as far as removing me from accessing the site seeing that I have objected to having private details available to all members of the site.  The concern here is that one, I have been removed from being a member of the site, due to my objections, but also that there appears to be a glaring security and privacy issue with My and I had hoped the site owner would have understood this.

I have done a Google search and have tried to find some information on the privacy settings on the My Heritage website but this is all I could find and a comment at the bottom says:

“About privacy, you should also keep in mind that on heritage data of living people (first names, birth dates, etc) is always private! So even if your site is set to public, guests will see instead of the first name and no further data”.

The above is not the case in relation to the site that I was given access to. Details about people who I do not know, were visible, such as their birth dates, marriage dates, photos, comments. Even as a private site and being member should not give a person the right to view these details about living relatives that they do not know just becuase they are a member of the site.

Going to the community page, and finding that I can access and view data and photos of a number of people from around the world is another concern. If the claim on the front of their website is true, that My is free private and secure, than I should not be able to see these details at all.

So what do I do now? Do I send a complaint to My heritage or just live in hope that the site owner actually is going to show me the courtesy of not publishing data about the details of my family who are still living?


  1. Publicising this issue on your blog is the way to go. If you have a twitter account tweet about the issue with a link to you blog. I am going to tweet about your post right now.

    I had my info on My Heritage in its early days and wasn’t particularly excited about their privacy settings, either. As my “free” tree at that time had more people than allowed they wanted to charge a fee for the “free” service. I removed my data.

    I then set up my own website where I have control over my data and who sees it. I like to be in control of my stuff.

    • Thank you for your comment and your tweet about my post. No I don’t have a twitter account (maybe one day). I too have my own site, though i do allow anyone to view the data, considering that I only publish details of people born before 1900 on the site and that is fine with me. Though I do ask that any person is conisders that they are connected are to contact me directly via email so we can discuss and exchange further information.

  2. Bobby

    Gee we have to be carefull, these sites are something else arent they. I had the same thing happen to me with . Boy was i angry and felt sick to my stomach. (i’m still annoyed). My story (i posted about it on my blog sometime back) was that i wasnt a paidup member but had my tree on their site. In the settings it says something to the effect, tick to keep the living hidden an d so i naturally had that ticked. So sometime went by and i had noticed that people were updating their trees with many of the same names that i had in my tree, and yes living people. So i rechecked my settings and everything was fine and so i wondered what was going on. I send a email to admin – and they said to me that all paidup members can see everything. Their was nothing within their T&C about this, nothing (it may of changed). Pure and simple they run shoddy business.

    I gave my No.1 spot for dodgy genealogy website for this year, 2010 posted on twitter.

    I will continue to speakup about shoddy ancestry companies that take us for a ride.

    And so now we have another website to protest about and keep our distance – and
    Thankyou for pointing out to us about myheritage.

  3. Support team at

    At we value privacy very highly. Let us give brief explanations about the topics you’ve raised: Only family members invited to a family site can view information on living people. A guest, i.e. someone visiting another family’s site without an invitation, cannot view details about living relatives. Only members who are logged in do see this, which you can check by coping the URL of your family site, logging-out (to right corner) and then repasting the URL into your browser – you will see that information on living people will appear as . This information cannot be published to the public via provides an extensive range of free tools for people to research and document their family history. It is the webmasters of the family sites that define the privacy settings for the members of a site. We provide our users with a private and secure environment – that fosters sharing within families for research purposes, whilst protecting family data from the outside world. If you wish for a (distant) family member that is the webmaster to remove information about you (or your close relatives) from the family site, please contact them directly and ask them to do so. You can refer to our terms, which state clearly “…you should refrain from the following: […] Any content which may violate the privacy of other people, including all members in your family tree.” You can read the whole terms here:
    If you don’t have any luck contacting them directly, feel free to contact us and we’ll help you do this.

    • How can you value privacy? Yes, Only family members that have access to the site can view information on living people, but this is the problem. As a member of the site I was able to see information about people that I did not know and who are only related to my part of the family remotely. There were over 11000 names in the database on this site. I could also see that people actually ‘requsted’ to be members (not invited). So how can we be sure that there are not ‘family members’ who have access to the site that are really not connected? I am no longer a member of the site and therefore cannot see the information on any of the data at all, which also means other people in the outside world cannot see this information either, but again, how secure is it really. If the webmaster of a site, is the one that defines the privacy settings, than truly our secure is it, if they are able to allow just anyone to be a member? The first part of the terms reads ‘to communicate with family and friends’. To me that means, immediate family & friends, not people who are related through a different generation. Your software still allows for people to see information that they should not be allowed to see. All details about living people, should be hidden. You should be only able to see your own personal details and be confident that your details are actually hidden from view from other members and this is particulary for those that are related distantly or through other generations.

  4. I recently (two weeks ago) signed up and paid for a Premium upgrade which is supposed to allow me to confirm matches, but when I do get a match and attempt to confirm I am prompted to upgrade to Premium to be able to get that service. I have paid the fee but was never given the capabilities. I have sent message after message to myheritage support, but get no reply. Myheritage does not and will not give out a telephone number as does. I have contacted my credit card company and they called some number but was told that myheritage emplyee could not do anything and would not give any other number, saying the only way to find out anything was to send an email. Myheritage will not answer my emails. I would like to cancel my year’s subscription, but have been given no means to do so. Since I am not getting the service I was promised, I would like to have my money back. I also get not more information from the 1940 census than I did a a “free” customer. My status as a customer did not upgrade to Premium when I paid, and they have made it very plain that they are not going to give me the servic e I paid for. DO NOT subscribe for a Premium upgrade it is a ripoff! I am going to call my credit card company back and see if any other action can be taken. Additionall I am going to complain to the Better Business Bureau.