Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dear AppleTree - Please Put in Privacy Controls

Do you have a family tree on AppleTree (  I do.  Do you have living persons in your tree on AppleTree?  I do.  My mistake.  The AppleTree website says:

"The world's family tree is public, free and open to edit."

The Help section says:

"Can I delete content from
Once it's been contributed, content cannot be deleted from, however it can be modified to be made more accurate. If you have a dispute with the information in the tree, please email us at dispute (at) appletree (dot) com


"Why is the information about living individuals made public?
Genealogy is a huge field of interest, and focuses largely on the ancestral trail in our lives. Living individuals are typically filtered or eliminated altogether from such user experiences. is a family history website that relies on the contribution of living individuals to make connections in the global family tree, and to record the stories of those still living so those important life milestones are not lost. Our dream of having a single human family tree is larger than the genealogical landscape - it's a landscape of memories, photos, and stories to be recorded for generations to come. We include the living in our tree as public to allow access and collaboration on their stories."

How did that happen?  Well, I don't recall reading their Terms of Service at the time I uploaded my tree (in 2009, I believe, but am unsure of).  Have the Terms of Service changed since then?  I don't know.

What brought this post about?  I was contacted by a distant Seaver cousin two weeks ago asking me why I had uploaded the information about her family that she had sent me years before.  Someone in her family was being harassed and threatened with physical harm and she wanted me to remove everything about her family - names, dates, places, relationships, etc. - from AppleTree.  How did she find out about it?  She did a Google search on her name and the data on AppleTree was easily displayed, to her horror.  As an example, here is my Profile on AppleTree:

The profile for me is  Every profile that goes up on AppleTree gets a similar profile.

I immediately wrote to the AppleTree privacy email and dispute email about the issue, and asked them how this could be rectified to my cousin's content.  I have not heard anything back from them yet.

What have I done to try to ameliorate this situation?  Well, I have hidden as much information about the family of my Seaver cousin as I can. I made the names "Living," I deleted the birth and death date information.  However, while the online profile screen says "Living," the profile URL still has the person's name in it.

I also edited the families of my children, my cousins, and several other known living families.

I would appreciate it if the AppleTree family tree owners would:

1)  Contact me so that we can discuss this matter.

2)  Modify their privacy policy and Terms so that they can delete specific profiles (including the person's name) from their world family tree in circumstances as described above.

3)  Modify their Terms so that a contributor can delete the entire family tree from the AppleTree system.

I fully accept that I screwed up here by not checking the Terms, and I hope that the mistake does not result in harm to my Seaver cousin's family.

Most other online family tree systems have some sort of privacy controls for living persons.  The profile may be added to the tree system, but details of the person are not shown when a search of the tree is performed.

What other online family tree websites show information about living people?  I've been checking many of the family tree websites to which I have contributed GEDCOM files and have not found another one that provides information about living persons in a Google search.  I'm still searching, though.

The lesson learned?  Read the Terms of Service of any online family tree website.  If you choose to upload a tree to a family tree website, submit a GEDCOM file for which living persons have been excluded.  

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I was quite surprised by the title of this post!!! I want to make certain that your readers know that I have absolutely NO connection to this site.


Root Digger said...

Thank you Randy for this post. I am sorry that this has happened and am checking to see if my family was connected into this "Apple Tree" Believe me, This is not something I am sure most of us will not want to be a part of.

Gerry said...

Randy, you will never hear from a legitimate person at "Appletree" because that site is nothing more than a personal information scavenger. That's the big danger in online genealogy.