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privacy violations on Living Relatives

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ProfilePosted byOptionsPost Date


JaneyCanuck Report 14 May 2011 01:42

Is the site management paying any attention at all, or is the new board too much of a cash cow to care?

I just reported a post that read like this:


subject line (full name of individual)

I am looking for my biological Grandmother. She gave birth to my Father (name) in (year). All I know about her is that she lived in (place) for a while and maybe still does and married a (full name) in (year) - if anyone can help please do it get in touch!!


(full name of poster)


Well, I just did two seconds searching and discovered that the biological grandmother had six children after marriage (all of whom, we will just say, are a good bit younger than me, as is the child named in the post).

And at least one of those children is A MEMBER OF THIS WEBSITE.

Now that's an interesting little problem.

The private lives of the family of a member of this website have just been put on display on the Living Relatives board.

I mean, I don't think the private lives of *anyone* should be displayed there, but I wonder how a member of this website would feel about it being their family's?

What if those children have never heard of their mother's child before marriage? Well let's just post it all on the internet where they may run across it some day.


The thing is that this search could have been posted simply by saying who was being searched for -- absolutely no reason to say why, or what the relationship is to the person.


I know that none of us regular users are reporting posts gratuitously or frivolously. We are reporting posts that genuinely violate the privacy of people who have no idea their private lives are being put on display here.

But there are quite a few such reports being made all the same.

And that's because there is a real, serious problem.

footnote -- I did PM that poster to explain why I had reported her post, and why it was a terrible thing to do. I did not provide her with the information I found about the family, because I also looked up her birth and found that she is quite young, and because she is quite simply lacking in the discretion and consideration needed here. Since the person sought is her father's mother, I suggested he would be the person to proceed with it.


Flip Report 14 May 2011 16:09

This is dreadful. I can't believe posts like that are allowed.

I've helped people in the past tracing living family, but only via PM - and posted onto the thread that I would PM details of whatever. I haven't been bothering with the living relatives board, as you can't see if anyone has already dug out the info - which as you say is so easy to find in many cases.

Don't get me wrong, I think everyone has the right to try to trace living relatives, but with some thought to their privacy. I've valued help from many people on this site and found my birth family after many years, but my mother would have been horrified to have all her details plastered all over the internet!

This board needs a serious re-think, and a moderator. Maybe posts should be checked prior to posting?


JaneyCanuck Report 14 May 2011 16:18

Well there's an excellent and easy idea.

Supposedly, posts to the Success Stories board used to be vetted before posting. (The number of looking-for posts that showed up there demonstrated that this didn't actually happen, but there ya go. I've PMed numerous people who posted their search help requests there to let them know they should post on TTF since no one could reply on Success Stories other than by PM and no one was likely to see their request.)

Posts to Living Relatives should be *pre*-moderated.

And the guidelines should be a whoooole lot more specific. That's the main thing.

I know people looking for birth parents, e.g., are anxious and eager. But they don't actually have to say the person they are looking for is their birth parent! let alone all the lurid details some feel compelled to post.

I've helped loads of people looking for, say, someone who was in the military in 1944 in a particular place. It's easy enough to read between the lines and understand the nature of the search, without all the details.


Flip Report 14 May 2011 16:35

Don't think changing the guidelines will make any difference. Many people don't take any notice of them anyway, as we can clearly see from the various threads already on here.

"Pre"-moderation could intercept some of the requests, and even that would be an improvement, but it won't get them all.


KempinaPartyhat Report 14 May 2011 16:42

I think its OUT OF order that people can put ANY details of living people on here .........................

But I guess anyone can us the net now to find someone so GR have give in to that ...

I think its WRONG


JaneyCanuck Report 14 May 2011 17:12

There are currently seven all-caps posts on the Living Relatives board by the same poster looking for the same person (or that person's family). (I think the original post, which I reported, was even more explicit than what is still plain in at least one of the remaining posts: an allegation of adultery.

What if one of the person's children were to see that post, and this were their first inkling that their deceased father had had a child with a woman not their mother????

The poster's sibling's name is virtually unique in that age group, so it's entirely conceivable that one of those children would google her name one day, as an old playmate, and find the post here about their father.

... Actually, I've just done that search, and found that the poster here has also posted elsewhere on the net looking for that person and their sibling.

And, of course, I found the post here at GR, dated today.

I have sent an email to abuse@genesreunited about these, because reporting them one by one seems pointless. (Not all of the current posts actually violate privacy by being as explicit about the reason for the search, but the fact that the same poster is posting the same thing day after day is just getting tedious.)

I actually don't have a huge problem with living people searches.

I'm searching for so-and-so, born about such-and-such in this place.

Anyone who might want to help can investigate further privately, e.g. to satisfy themself that it isn't an abusive ex-husband searching for young children. (And of course if so-and-so beats the millions to one odds and actually sees the message, they can decide for themselves whether to reply.)

It's the "I'm searching for my birth mother AB who had an adulterous affair with CD while she was married to EF and living in XYZ in 19xx" that I find appalling.

Or even the specifics of the relationship, where it is birth parent especially.


Lindsey* Report 14 May 2011 17:56

Posts should be submitted , vetted and only allowed to be published the next day only if the content is appropriate, rejected posts could be returned with an explanation ?

There has to be protection measures put in place .


Darklord Report 14 May 2011 19:23

Hi All

Reading this with very much interest indeed.

The main website I use will not allow posts for living relatives as it may cause distress and upset and i am all for tracking down family,but I am sure there is a better way.




JaneyCanuck Report 14 May 2011 21:59

There's a post dated just before this one on LR at the moment with a subject line that consists of three people's given names and a surname.

The body of the post says that a male given name is looking for those people. The poster's name is female, with a different surname.

Now, does that scream out to anyone else:
Non-custodial father looking for minor children!!!!

Has the site management done anything (hahahahaha) to ensure that this is NOT what the post is?

I did report a post that was obviously a search by a non-custodial father for minor children, and it was removed.

If posters get sneaky and don't mention ages or give enough info to suss them out, is that okay?

Not by me.

No One should be meddling in parental custody matters.

If a non-custodial parent has lost contact with minor children, there's every possibility that there is a very good reason for this.

The only way to avoid such posts on the board -- and the possibility that some blundering "helpful" member will help a non-custodial parent track down their children through private contact with the poster -- is for

- much more detailed instructions to be given
(which would include a prohibition on searches for minors, among other things)

- posts to be pre-moderated and any questions of this nature resolved before posting is allowed

Is the nuisance factor associated with this board outweighing the money it's pulling in, yet?

Maybe once the sponsored television series ends / the novelty factor wears off ...


Cynthia Report 14 May 2011 22:15

I sometimes wonder if the site management has the experience and necessary knowledge needed to deal with moderating of the LR board to be honest. I wonder if they have a legal expert on their team?

I am concerned that they are more interested in increasing membership and making larger profits than they are about violating people's privacy.

££££££££ rules ok!



JoyDean Report 14 May 2011 22:22

Although genes reunited has stated that it will not have moderators, it is obvious to me that Bright Solid could face legal issues by people having been affected by this new board; and I urge people to write to genes reunited / Bright Solid about this. If it insists that there will be no moderators for other boards (other than the success one), then it must be stressed to them that it is totally unethical not to have a living relatives board unmoderated.
It should not be up to the members of the site to report threads that have abused people's rights to privacy.

Contrary Mary

Contrary Mary Report 14 May 2011 22:32

Interesting reading regarding *right to privacy*

Private individuals

The Human Rights Act 1998 only binds public bodies, and not individuals, so there still is no general right to protection from invasion of privacy by other individuals in society. This means that you cannot sue your neighbour, or a private company, for invading your privacy. However, because the courts are public authorities, and so have a duty to act compatibly with the Convention rights, and because of the obligation on courts to interpret statutory law compatibly with Convention rights wherever possible, if you have some other ground to bring a claim to court, then once you are before the court you can ask the court to protect your Article 8 rights, and the court will have a duty to do so if possible.

So celebrities who consider that a newspaper has breached their privacy by publishing photographs in situation where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy have been able to go to bring an action for breach of confidence, and then ask the court, as a public authority, to protect their right to privacy. See CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION. But because of the reluctance to recognise a freestanding principle of protection from invasion of privacy, it is still necessary to pay close attention to the piecemeal protection that currently exists in general common law and different statutes in order to have a full understanding of the privacy rights you enjoy.



JaneyCanuck Report 14 May 2011 22:55

But the Data Protection Act does govern, I believe -- my expertise is in Canadian law, not UK, so I'm not the best authority.

So CarolB's link is relevant:

"You might have a data protection problem if any of the following apply to you:
Personal information about you is used, held or disclosed:
for a reason that is not the one it was collected for, or
without proper security."

It is certainly arguable that a website owner that allows the posting of such information, on a website where it remains indefinitely, is not in compliance.

"Before you complain to us
First, tell the organisation concerned and give it an opportunity to put things right."

The problem here is that the people affected have no idea their personal information is being displayed here!

And the main thing may not be so much a matter of technical violation of an Act, but more a matter of common decency, and how much of it the general public can expect of a corporation.

I do think that the general public can expect that a corporation will not publish lurid stories about their families, or publish the details of their own private lives, on the internet.


JoyDean Report 14 May 2011 23:23

Quite, Janey. In one instance recently, a person's precise name and date of birth was given and that remained in public view for many hours before it was removed. Also, derogatory remarks about people have been posted; these, too, have stayed in public view for many hours.

The people named would not have known about these public posts - unless it was pointed out to them, or they had seen it themselves. Their rights to privacy were abused.

Contrary Mary

Contrary Mary Report 14 May 2011 23:29

"But the Data Protection Act does govern, I believe -- my expertise is in Canadian law, not UK, so I'm not the best authority."

I don't think it does govern, it is about information held by companies and organisations and doesn't cover information held by private individuals.

I don't believe that GR themselves are in violation of the DPA, they are not publishing personal information about individuals........they are merely providing the means for private individuals to do so.........and I'm pretty sure they have had VERY good lawyers to advise them on this subject??

"And the main thing may not be so much a matter of technical violation of an Act, but more a matter of common decency, and how much of it the general public can expect of a corporation."

Absolutely agree with you. It all comes down (to my mind anyway) about common decency. People have always done it, (posted too much personal info) but before we were able to reply directly on to their thread asking them to remove certain info - we were also able to question their reasons for wishing to find someone. Of course we still can, but only by pm. :-(

The suggestion for having a Find Living Relatives board must have been made by quite a number of members for GR to have obliged I would think. My own view is that it should be

1. a private board which is not picked up by a google search.
2. not a bulletin board but one that helpers can reply on, as all the other boards are.



JaneyCanuck Report 14 May 2011 23:47

CM -- but the owner of this website is not a private individual, it's a corporation.

The owner of this website *is* publishing the information that users post here.

I don't think the management of this website has ever consulted a lawyer about anything, frankly. To overstate only slightly.

It certainly claims copyright in all material posted on this site:

10. Intellectual Property
All intellectual property rights (including copyright, trade marks, and other intellectual property rights) in the Websites and all material or content made available by Genes Reunited via the Gene Reunited Service (excluding any Submissions by members (in respect of which see below)) shall remain at all times the property of Genes Reunited or Genes Reunited’s licensors.

and I think it would be difficult to do that and claim not to be publishing the material. ;)

11. Your Submissions and Postings
... We shall not be responsible for the content of any Submissions contributed by members or the behaviour of members or users of the Genes Reunited Service.

and I shall not be responsible if you fall into the concealed trench on my property while delivering my mail.

In other words: disclaimers do not always govern. Reasonable diligence, at least, may be required.

While I'm here, I would note that the Privacy Policy still says:

Registration Information. The details you provide on Registration, and the details of those you enter into your family tree are only available to you, except that names, year of birth and place of birth for you and those in your tree are searchable by other Members. >> Search results from your tree will only be associated with you by your first name (which will be displayed together with the search results) ...

and that is *still false*, since 99% of users were unable to conceal their surnames when they registered, and most users who have registered in the last few weeks have no understanding of how or why to do that.


SylviaInCanada Report 15 May 2011 00:41


Several people did suggest that there should be a closed board for searching Living Relatives ............ the idea being that postings on that board would not be accessible to google or other search engines

in other words, it would be a "private" board, accessible only to members og GR, on which sensitive requests could be made, and on which replies could be made ON the threads (not by pm).

It might have been a little difficult for GR to set up such a private baord ............... but I'm sure that it would be possible to provide something much much better than what they have done with the current Board.



SylviaInCanada Report 15 May 2011 00:43


Has anyone noticed that ancestry is now offering

Living Relative Search
powered by people tracer

Find living relatives
Living Relative Search

Have you lost touch with a parent or sibling? Or would you like to track down a distant cousin or great-aunt? Find your kin, no matter how closely related, with the new Living Relative Search.

Living Relative Search is a new service from our partner Peopletracer, which you can access from our site. It's a quick and easy way to trace people living all over the UK. You just enter a name, have a guess at their location, and click Search.

You can see basic search results for free. If you think you've found your relative, you can then buy credits, and discover details such as their telephone number, address, how long they've lived there and even how up-to-date the information is.

You'll find Living Relative Search among the options at the top of our site.

Start searching now



jax Report 15 May 2011 00:54

I have been using the living relative search for ages, but not paying to view.

Think that one gives you 10 searches a day where as only 5

I found one for someone on the living rellies board but after not getting a thanks she will not get help from me again :D



JaneyCanuck Report 15 May 2011 01:03

Ancestry's "living people" thingy just gives access to the kinds of records that members here use when they do living people searches.

Sylvia -- it is not remotely difficult to set up a part of a website to make it un-accessable by search engines.

Here's the example I am familiar with:

Indexing of Decisions by External Search Engines

15. Through application of recognized web robot exclusion protocols* and by restricting indexing activities in its terms of use, CanLII prohibits external search engines from indexing the text and style of cause of decisions published on its website. When indexing prohibitions in robot exclusion protocols are complied with, searching for the name of an individual using an Internet search engine does not return decisions published on CanLII. However, when a third party links to a CanLII decision on a web page that is not under CanLII’s control, names that are included in this page or in the link’s text might still be indexed by external search engines. Neither CanLII nor its partners represent or guarantee that the technological and legal measures taken to prevent external indexing will be respected or be free of mistakes or malfunctions.

* links to this:

How do I prevent robots scanning my site?
The quick way to prevent robots visiting your site is put these two lines into the /robots.txt file on your server:
User-agent: *
Disallow: /
but this only helps with well-behaved robots.

I think an idiot with a few spare minutes could figure this out.

As noted, this does counteract the whole idea of having posts findable by internet searches.

But the thing is, this site has *never* been intended as a bulletin board. In fact, it is only in the last year or so that google has bothered indexing pages here, as users of this site have increasingly googled terms found in posts here.

If this site is meant to be one where people *get help* with searches, not just post yet another "looking for" message that will never be seen and never be answered, then a *non-indexed* "confidential" board is exactly what is needed.

I am so ****ING sick of editing every ****ing post I put on this ****ing site because I've forgotten to add a space after a colon at the end of a line and my posts end up full of stupid yellow blobs ....