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No major changes, just some tweaks

Ancestry’s family of companies is in the process of updating its terms of use, applicable to all of its non-DNA-related websites, including,, and Ancestry Academy.

TOS.2015The update — a minor rewrite of its privacy statement — applies to “visitors and new users registering on any of the Websites on or after June 26, 2015 and to all users already registered or subscribing to any of the Websites on or after July 26, 2015.”1

In this first update since 1 August 2014, there are no surprises and no major changes — just some tweaks.

Now, a reminder: terms and conditions — terms of use — are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it.”2 In this case, the terms of use govern whether we can use the Ancestry websites and, if we do, what rights we’re giving Ancestry.

As savvy online genealogists we all know that we should read every last word of the terms of use and understand them before we agree to them by using a website.

And as human beings in a technological age we still generally just click through because, after all, what choice do we have? If we want to use Ancestry — and we do — we have to agree to the changes.

So… what are we agreeing to this time?

First and foremost, the privacy statement now applies to the newly-launched Ancestry Academy — the partly-free, partly-subscription-based learning center that began operations earlier this year. Many of the changes in the privacy statement simply add Ancestry Academy to the list of websites affected.3

Second, the new terms make it clear that anything — anything at all — that you choose to make public on any website Ancestry operates is… well… public. Among the things Ancestry will make use of, if you choose to use any of the Ancestry websites:

• “Your background, interests, and activity on the Websites.”

• “Your age, gender, background and interests … such as in your user profile.”

• “Information about some of your activity on the Website, such as historical records you save or Ancestry Academy courses you’ve taken.”

• “Personal information about yourself and others in the course of doing research on our Websites, e.g., adding a photo, adding information about a historical person, creating family trees, or sharing a photo with another user through our Services.”

• “Any comments on the Websites or … in community discussions, chats, communications with us or between you and other users… (and) any information you provide in these areas may be read, collected, and used by others who access them.”4

None of this “your information may be shared” stuff is new. You can go online and read the prior terms, posted 1 August 2014, and all of that “your information may be shared” stuff is there too.5 And you can go back to the terms before that, posted 28 June 2013, and all of that “your information may be shared” stuff is there too.6

In fact, the earliest online version I can find — from 2010 — says essentially the same thing:

As a member of, you can also chose to share further information about yourself, your activity on the site, and your background and interests, with other members of the site. … Information about some of your activity on the site… may also be shared with other members in order to help you connect with others researching similar ancestors. … To help you connect with other members researching similar ancestors, by default new accounts are set up to allow other members to learn about things you publicly add or post to the site, as well as some personal research activities (such as saving historical records to your Shoebox or private member tree).7

So if you don’t like the Ancestry terms of use, what can you do? Under the agreement, you have one — and only one — choice: don’t use the Ancestry websites. The terms explicitly provide that: “If you do not consent to any changes to our Privacy Statement and as a result you would like us not to use or hold personal information about you in accordance with the revised terms, you may notify us here so we can discontinue your account.”8


  1. Ancestry Privacy Statement, June 26, 2015, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 July 2015). The privacy statement for AncestryDNA has also been updated, but is separate and should be reviewed separately. See Judy G. Russell, “AncestryDNA doings,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 July 2015 ( : accessed 6 July 2015).
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Reprise: a terms of use primer,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Apr 2015 ( : accessed 4 July 2015).
  3. Ancestry Privacy Statement, June 26, 2015, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 July 2015).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ancestry Privacy Statement, August 1, 2014, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 July 2015).
  6. Ancestry Privacy Statement, June 28, 2013, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 July 2015).
  7. Privacy Statement, December 14, 2010, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 July 2015).
  8. Ancestry Privacy Statement, June 26, 2015, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 July 2015).
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