Monday, August 7, 2017

Dear Randy: Is My Personal Information on MyHeritage Private?

Genea-blogger Amberly Beck asked this question in Added or Updated Record Collections on MyHeritage - 1 August 2017, saying:

"I have a question for you about My Heritage. I have noticed that I have several smart matches about myself in other trees. These other trees include my full name and birth info as well as my parents names. I can see my parents in their trees and well as myself. I am very concerned that they do not protect the privacy of living people. Do you know how that is handled? I attended a class once with a high up My Heritage person and asked that question but he had no idea."

My short answer is "I don't know how private my personal information, or yours, is, on MyHeritage.  I hope that MyHeritage will respond to this post with information about their privacy policy for living persons."

There is a Privacy Policy page at  The seemingly operative paragraphs are:

"Within a family site, the Website provides convenient visual tools for building a family tree and adding information to family tree profiles. The Website also provides output tools for producing family tree charts and posters and for showcasing a user's family history to family members via slideshows and online reports. When building a family tree, the user determines at his/her discretion which relatives to add to the family tree, whether to add deceased relatives, living relatives or both, and which information to include about them.

"The user decides to what degree information on the family tree and other information from the family site will be visible to and discoverable by other users, by setting the Privacy Preferences (described in a detailed section below). The user decides whether to build the family tree on the Website on his/her own, or to make it a collaborative effort by inviting family members to assist, using facilities available on the Website for inviting members. If other members are invited, they make similar choices on entering information into the family tree. All information is entered into the Website directly and is not collected implicitly. The Website prevents information on living people from being disclosed to strangers, to protect privacy, and such information if entered will not be visible outside the family site or discoverable by search engines such as Google. It is often useful however to allow deceased people entered into the family tree to be visible to and searchable by other people, to allow one's distant relatives to discover it.

"The personal information that you and other users enter is stored in the Website only for the purpose of delivering the Service to you and the other users, i.e. displaying the family tree, printing the family tree, searching historical records, and other genealogy features."

I checked or my own information by clicking the "Smart Match" icon on my family tree profile, and found that there were at least eight MyHeritage trees that have my personal information on their MyHeritage sites.  Here is a screen shot of the first Smart Match:

I clicked on the orange "Review Match" button and was able to see my profile on this tree compared to my tree.  The header when I click on the tree says "You are not a member."  I did a search on the tree, and it did not find me with my full name or with my first and last names.

On the comparison screen, it showed my name, my birth date and place, my home address, my wife's name, and my deceased parents, but not my siblings or children.  

What about my living brother?  I put his name and birth year in the MyHeritage search engine (clicking the "Research" button) and there were no MyHeritage trees with him listed in the results.  

I clicked on the "Smart Match" icon on my MyHeritage tree, and there were four matches in other trees for my living brother.  

Lastly, I put Amberly's first and last name in the "Research" SuperSearch screen and the results included her MyHeritage member page and her family tree.  However, I could not see information about her, or her living family, on the tree, but I could see information about her parents' ancestry.

So, my conclusion is "I'm confused."  

*  The Privacy Policy seems to say that my personal information is protected from "strangers."

*  A search in SuperSearch finds Amberly's page and tree, but not her personal data.

*  Clicking on the Smart Match icon on my MyHeritage tree, my living brother is in four trees.  However, a search in SuperSearch does not find him in a MyHeritage tree.

*  A search for myself using the Smart Match icon on my MyHeritage tree produces eight trees with information about me.  A SuperSearch search for myself finds me in three MyHeritage trees.  

I'm very sure that a clear exposition of the MyHeritage privacy policy for living persons would be appreciated by many researchers. 


Disclosure:  I have a complimentary subscription to MyHeritage, and have had for several years, which I appreciate.  I have been reimbursed for travel and meal expenses in exchange for services rendered (luncheon and in-exhibit presentations) to MyHeritage at RootsTech conferences.  

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Fax said...

I have a long-standing policy of never including living people on any website. I strip them from my database before making a GEDCOM. The exception is myself, but I include only my name, no other information. Another exception is where the person in my database has his or her name alreeady on the web, e.g., for a DNA match I use whatever name they have chosen to post. Of course, if they're living, the web host (Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc.) usually strips the name anyway.


Amberly said...

Wow, Randy. Thank you for taking my question so seriously. :) I hope MyHeritage will offer some clarity. This issue has really bothered me since I first opened my free, LDS MyHeritage account. It is actually one of my big reasons for avoiding the site in general.