Friday, March 18, 2011

Exploring WikiTree - Post 6: Privacy Levels

I uploaded a GEDCOM file to WikiTree in the first post of this series.  In Post 2 in this series, we explored the Family Tree and navigation within the tree on the WikiTree site.  In Post 3, we saw what was included on a Person Profile previously edited, in Post 4 we went through the process to Edit a Person Profile, and in Post 5 we added a photograph to a Person's profile.

One of the major issues for any researcher or family member that contributes a family tree, or information about a person, to an online family tree system is PRIVACY. 

The WikiTree system has a number of privacy levels that are tailored to the facts about each person in the tree.  The Privacy Level  of each person in the online tree can be  changed by the Profile Manager, and Trusted List persons, of each specific person. 

I'm going to quote extensively from the Help pages available on WikiTree.  They define the policies and procedures that are in place to protect the privacy concerns of WikiTree registered users.

The key person for each Person Profile is the Profile Manager, whose responsibilities are:

"The Profile Manager is the person who has primary responsibility for taking care of a profile of a person, place or thing. When you create a new profile you automatically become the manager. If you create a profile for a living person and they become an active WikiTree user they become the manager of their own profile. You can add and replace managers through the Trusted List on the Privacy page. There can be more than one manager.

"Functionally, the most important roles of a manager are: They get the e-mail requests when someone wants to be added to the profile's Trusted List. They control the privacy level on a profile. They can delete the profile."

Other registered WikiTree users can be on a Trusted List.  The function of those on the Trusted List are:

"WikiTree has a unique privacy balance. It's what makes WikiTree special.  Our system is based on what we call Trusted Lists.  Every single profile of a person, place, or thing has its own Trusted List. Similar to "Friends Lists" on social networking sites, each user on a Trusted List has to be individually approved. To view or edit a Trusted List, click the Privacy tab on a profile.

"You approve or reject users for your own profile's Trusted List. Trusted Lists for ancestors and other non-living or inactive people, places or things are controlled by the users already on the Trusted List, especially the Profile Manager.

"You can ask to be added to a Trusted List by clicking on the link on the profile. The Profile Manager will be e-mailed. If they approve you they'll be given the opportunity to add you to the Trusted Lists of related profiles at the same time. And there's a handy form for adding or removing someone from multiple Trusted Lists."

The different Privacy levels are shown on the screen below for one of my ancestors, Mary Jane Sovereen (1840-1874):

These Privacy levels are (from the WikiTree Privacy page -

"*  Unlisted:  The default for new profiles of children under 13, and an option for any profile that you want to keep entirely hidden from everyone but the Trusted List. Unlisted names do not appear in search results, surname index pages, or automatic matches.

"*  Private: The default for profiles of living people over 13 and those that are added as the child, spouse, sibling, or parent of a living person. The public can still see certain limited information on a Private profile. Like being listed in a phone book, this enables others to find it. When editing a profile you can tell at a glance whether a particular piece of information is private with the following colored icons.

"*  Private with Public Biography:  Exactly like Private profiles, with all the protections outlined above, except that the Biography (body of the page) is public. It can still only be edited by the Trusted List.

"*  Private with Public Biography and Family Tree: Exactly like the above, but the person's Family Tree page is also public.  If other family members are Private their names will not appear.

"*  Public:  The default for profiles of non-living people under 200 years old, unless they are added as the nuclear relative of a living person. Anyone can view the information on a Public profile. However, even though anyone can view a Public profile you still need to be in the Trusted List to add or change information.

"*  Open:  The default for profiles of people over 200 years old.  Not only can anyone view the information on an Open profile, any registered user with a confirmed e-mail address can make edits, like on Wikipedia. All edits are tracked, credited to the appropriate users, and can be reversed.  Supervisors can merge Open profiles. The mission of the WikiTree community is to connect modern families with ancestors on a single worldwide family tree. Merging duplicates is an important part of this.  The Profile Manager and the Trusted List still lead the collaboration. The manager is the only who can change the Privacy Level or delete the profile. The Profile Manager and the Trusted List are also the only users who can add or change family relationships, or upload or edit images. However, this may change in the future if WikiTreers prefer it to be liberalized."

There is an Extra Privacy option available for WikiTree users and Person Profiles.

The profile for my ancestor Mary Jane Sovereen (1840-1874) above was a "Public" profile by default when I uploaded my GEDCOM, since she is a non-living person who was born less than 200 years ago.  As the Profile Manager for her, I could manually change her profile to "Open" if I chose to.  Or I could select any other privacy level for her using the "Privacy" tab on her Person Profile.

This Privacy system on WikiTree is, I think, very well thought out.  It protects the privacy of living persons, and permits the openness on deceased persons that is necessary to encourage collaboration of distant cousins, while providing sufficient privacy control by the Profile Managers.

For my WikiTree, I want to invite my living cousins to add content to the information about their parents,  grandparents and collateral lines.  I also want to encourage more distant cousins to connect with deceased persons in my tree and hope that they will be able to add more content to those mutual ancestors.


Dave Voelker said...

Randy, thanks for the informative review. I too have loaded a GEDCOM into Wikitrees and am just starting to kick the tires on it. I have not gotten as far as you have with privacy settings but I will be giving that a look, agree that this is an important topic. Thanks for posting.

Chris Whitten said...

Dave, if you have any questions be sure to let me know: chris at

Randy, thanks again for this series. It's terrific exposure for WikiTree.