Posted by Eric Heath on January 28, 2020 in Website

Today is International Data Privacy Day, a global effort held each year on January 28 to create awareness about the importance of respecting privacy, safeguarding data and building trust. At Ancestry, while we focus on empowering and educating individuals about privacy and data stewardship every day, Data Privacy Day is an important moment to reflect on our commitment to protecting our customers’ privacy. 

At Ancestry, trust is the foundation of our relationships with our customers and we strive to provide transparent explanations of how we collect and process your dataincluding sensitive personal information like DNApresent choices to you so you feel empowered to make decisions about your data, and most critically, enable our customers to exercise control over their own data. 

Ancestry also publishes a Transparency Report that details our interactions with law enforcement agencies. Today, we are publishing our 2019 report.  Our total interactions with law enforcement went down from 2018 to 2019 and we’re proud to reassure our customers that, like all years prior, Ancestry did not provide any genetic data to law enforcement in 2019

Lastly, a note about the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). This law became effective in California on January 1 and Ancestry took steps to help ensure that our privacy program meets the new law’s requirements, including enhanced disclosures when Ancestry customers request their data.  Also, because Ancestry does not sell the personal information of its customers, you will not see a “Do Not Sell My Personal Data” button on our websites as you may elsewhere online.  

Ancestry decided to provide the benefits of the CCPA to all our customers, not just those in California, just as we did with our compliance efforts for Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation.

We all have a role to play in safeguarding our customers data and our own. Today, we encourage you to take a moment on Data Privacy Day 2020 to reset your passwords, check your sharing settings on social media, and revisit your privacy controls on Ancestry.

Eric Heath

Chief Privacy Officer, Ancestry


  1. Jim Seymour

    You say “Ancestry does not sell the personal information of its customers” – and I take you at your word for this. However, I use the Privacy Badger add-on for Chrome – and I see that there are 25 third-party web sites that are used just to build *this* page. I assume Ancestry is making money from these third-party advertising sites. Otherwise, why are they there?

    I understand that this is not personally identifiable information that Ancestry is selling. But it is a privacy problem. (Which is why I use Privacy Badger).

    In Ancestry’s defense, this is how almost ALL web sites behave these days. But it’s always troubled me that I pay a subscription fee to use Ancestry – but they still allow web advertisers to learn about me indirectly.

  2. Barbara

    I’m curious why I see a message “connecting to Facebook…” every time IO make a change to anyone in my tree. I have never, never, never authorized any connection between Ancestry and Facebook.

  3. Jim Seymour

    Yes, is one of the 25 sites that Ancestry pulls data from – seemingly on every page. Others are,,,,, and *many* that I don’t know who or what they are…

  4. Peggy Deras

    Jim Seymour and others here. Thank you.
    I agree that the goings on in the tiny text box at the lower left of my screen has been a concern for me of late. I am not a Facebook member or user. Let alone all of the other entities that slowly post in the little box while I wait. My thinking is this: I pay well for my Ancestry membership for services that I could be obtaining elsewhere for free. Consequently I want that little box GONE! Nuff said.

  5. Lynn Ulrich

    I put my tree setting on private because the info I worked hard on was changed. So now it is private. I am getting my own pictures on FB . Why these are very private. How do I know they are no being leaved to someone else. This is my family’s journey threw my eyes for my son.

  6. Roy

    I have been a member for a short time. I see the necessity of keeping the living alive and the dead ‘dead’. If you were in a witness protection program and found yourself in a public family tree on, it could be a matter or life and death for you and your family. Rules for privacy are extremely important, particularly to the living. To leave it as a rule on the honor system, is not meaningful. Have all of the members done a thorough search of your own name? I tried it last year and found that I died more that 10 years ago. It showed up in several member family trees. 3 of my siblings who are still with us were shown to have died in the same year 11 years ago. We were not asked if we would allow that. Identity theft is a reality. Any one can access the public tree information. The abilities of high speed computing and access to databases like genealogical files could answer most of the supposedly ‘secret’ information about you. It has been only a few years ago that you could identify yourself to financial businesses over the phone by answering questions like “Where was your mother born?” or “what was your mother’s maiden name?” Once the cat is out of the bag, you’ll never get it back in.

  7. Monika

    I agree with you, Roy! If you “google” my name it will tell you that I am 119 years old (it g ives the accurate day and month but not the year) and that I still live at a California address that I left behind 20 years ago. It seems that ancestry tries to gather information indiscriminately like catching fish with a net. I had to put up a fight when I discovered that they were showing in their “hints” section a photo copy of a tourist visa I had gotten which showed all the details that an identity thief needs. (Picture, name, birth date, location etc etc. Did take some time to get that one out of the “hint”/”leaf” section. They still show my immigration visa in the hint section, which, of course, has pretty much the same information as the tourist visa had. VERY IRRESPONSIBLE ANCESTRY!

  8. Jim Seymour

    Lynn Ulrich, the only way your tree should change is if you or someone else with permissions has changed it. If you invite others to your tree – and you give them “Editor” privileges, they can make edits. If you’re seeing changes without having done any of this, then its a bug.

    I personally keep all my trees public because I’m here to help others. But I can’t honestly tell people they’re wrong for keeping their trees private.

  9. Ani

    I felt reasonably assured regarding my tree and DNA’s privacy under the company’s former leadership. Bringing all the tests over to a private lab was reassuring. The company and it’s focus seem to be changing and that has me uneasy regarding how my data is read and passed about. It doesn’t help that the company’s become a bit fascist in suppressing unhappy customer comments, rather than putting some of those suggestions i place. It seems like a totally different company these days. Seeing three pages of frosted over, user commentary over at review sites, doesn’t make the company look like they are listening. Nor do the messages users have left here on the blog that have disappeared. Or their releasing blog entry, that customers can’t comment on, diminishes customer loyalty. They seem out of touch for a company that wants to have a warm fuzzy reputation and astute about personal privacy. DNA matching within the largest genealogical DNA pool in the world is a dream come true as is their records collection. I have been a customer for two decades and anticipated, I would be with them for the next 40 years. Subscriptions, DNA and Ancestry Health kits, don’t seem enough for them any longer. They seem intent on exploiting your data. I have no idea what the web design team is going for, as many of the changes over the last year are fixing things that weren’t broken, in favor of designs that don’t work as quickly and and effectively as the former navigations. Writing “Ancestry Suggestions” about how awkward, and non intuitive the interfaces coming out of that department falls into a black hole. The only department that does seem to listen to user comments, is the General Feedback Devision. When Truelines was launched, it didn’t seem very accurate, but now it seems to be working really well, at least for me. I’ve solved the majority of the pressing genealogical questions I started with, due to Ancestry DNA. But I dislike many of the tweeks to the DNT section of the program. Disliking the Add A Fact system’s reedo.
    the former way of adding information to the site, allowed researches to organize things to their own liking. Now there appear to be these templates that one can’t side step. If people wanted an open tree, but to have some things private, you could remove their date of death, and be left with a half public and half private tree. Now, some information on deceased individuals even in private trees, is being read due to the soft ware. The info may have been anonymous when it was released by Ancestry about you being the source, but it certainly is not when it’s being triangulated by the company and sewn together with data from their partner sites, and who they sell info to. I agree with several people above, these is no discrimination in what is being gathered and throw out and how vulnerable it makes you. What you clip and save from other sites to Ancestry is ricocheting and informing others on the site
    and outside, in the same way things do on Facebook. A private tree should be private. The site’s overhaul of the profile page, fact sections is the worse thing I have seen on the site. As the time lines get thrown off when census data is off, I used the “Add A Fact” sections to create my own annotated time line. I summarize the census data in the area, record everyone in the family’s ages, professions, address, and any new info, and what I need to do nex. I can’t do that due to this overhaul, I can’t see even any of that information now. Why would I want to have Ancestry wipe out those notes and replace them with Ancestry’s info. Or be the default setting not be something I need. Am I supposed to go through all 2, 000 people and adjust all their facts. Of course I would like the company to still build stories, but I don’t wish to see them adjusted that way. That green toggle is confusing. They took user profiles that actually gave you a ton of info and replaced them with questions like: “What is you favorite season?” Additionally, who wants to open a census form ever time
    you want to check a tiny fact, or not see it’s source, and have to click to do those things. Really? Who are they pooling in their focus groups that think these things are good replacement ideas for what was already there? All
    folks wanted was more room in the “Add A Fact” description boxes? We’ve been asking for more space in those boxes that for over 19+ years. Regarding Ancestry DNA, we wanted greater accuracy, no to have them move things around the page and position them in odd ways, when the first thing most people would have done was set up the left to right menu from the get go where one could screen for things like, “Un viewed tests.” They took the match note sections when they could have left it, where it was. You used to be able to see all modern generations on Tree view. they replace it with no list of surnames you could quickly scan, but now one has to gain that via the tree and if you click on a person it resets to the unexpanded view, rather than route you back to where you were viewing the tree form, the expanding position. Simple Ancestry, please.

    I wish the web design team would simplify rather than complicate, or tuck new features in around the old templates or creat a back page display fo the. Now I dislike entering facts onto my time line, not so wild about the DNA over haul other than color groupings. All I wanted in that area was more room in the description box to write in. I would have liked the source of my fact tp be handy, where you have instead added “Write a life story event. ” Please keep it’s the way it was and make new feature the things that you tuck away. Now I can’t see my own notes in the description box, and why would I want to have Ancestry text, replace my own inside my add a fact box. Mine has exactly what I need, and it’s organized in a way I find effective. I think things like this are loosing you more customers, than DNA issues. I think the first two generation of info, about a living person, should be protected and not displayed on an index due to identity theft. The new Ancestry indexing that is showing you who living family members are drawn from the Newspapers Obit and find a grave and tree information is horrifying, and has lead to me feeling unsafe. If someone wants an obit let them hunt for it, to see living family members. When you are combining that info with DNA attached to trees, you are asking for trouble and user mistrust. So I am with Monika and Roy above. I have a closed tree and no long feel like it is private as it was now that it’s being read by the compony’s software and my saving things sends them to the people I shut my tree to. I don’t want the bot over at Newspapers, or Find a Grave noticing what I am saving and confirming information for Ancestry that then pairs deceased members of my family with living members and publishes the names of my living family members. Due to those indexes, you now have extremely distant relatives posting things on their trees that make you and your immediate family vulnerable, and they could care less. I think Ancestry should be policing the school yard better and have a policy that if someone asks you to make something private, by community standards you should. A little bit of kindness towards others users goes a long way. Most people will be happy to help you as long as your are willing to respect their need for a little privacy. They don’t mind sharing, what they mind is publication of their data by those who are not respectful of . It’s a handful of thoughtless users who have driven people to closing their trees.

  10. Monika

    So true Ani, so true! You said everything I feel and you know that we are not alone. And I still cannot get them to remove my California Naturalization Records nor my U.S. Naturalization Records from their database because they are considered a matter of “public record.” Yes, they are, but I doubt that someone who does not know my name is going to go to the public records to find these documents. However, an identity thief, and they are known to go on to steal identities, according to police officers I spoke with, can access records like that on, as long as (s)he pays a membership fee. I thought for a while that they had removed one of these records because I asked them to do so, only to discover that the only place that they removed it from is MY private tree. Ancestry YOU MISSED THE POINT. Just because these records are available through government offices does not mean that you should be so irresponsible as to make it available to an identity thief for a membership fee. LIVING people should not be exposed on unless they want to be.

  11. Rebecca Jean Brown

    I guess i just don’t quite understand yet. I will continue to seek adequate information thats required to fulfill my necessary engagement in obtaining the factual literature on my ancestry, and to know the “genuinity”on my”families” historical roots of ancestrism. Until then, I rest ashore and look forward to this challenge.

  12. Mark Armstrong

    I keep seeing polls on the internet asking whether the efficiency of Ancestry’s DNA evaluations is motivating for me to use them. I keep saying No. If I’m looking for DNA analysis, of course I’d go with the one that has the best analysis capability and accuracy. But the most motivating thing for me is Privacy. Sure – right now – Ancestry says they don’t sell your DNA information to anybody. I’m not sure I believe that, but more importantly, nothing about that stance says they will NEVER sell that information – even in the future, no matter what. That’s what I want. I want a statement in their terms of service – an unchangeable, legally binding statement – that my DNA will be FOREVER safe. A policy that legally cannot change, and is binding to anybody else who may run, lead, buy or own Ancestry in the future, even if it changes names! That the information is forever protected from unauthorized release without direct, signatory authorization. I challenge Ancestry to take this stance and make it a reality. Until then, NOTHING can motivate me to give you my DNA.

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