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Changes in privacy rules and terms and conditions

Yes, has changed its terms of service and privacy statement.

Yes, like most every other customer, The Legal Genealogist got the email about the changes.

Yes, probably unlike most every other customer, The Legal Genealogist has carefully read both documents and compared them to prior versions.

And, yes, there are changes you should be aware of.


No, for the most part, there’s nothing to be truly concerned about.

Ancestry homepage

The major impetus for the change is a change in California state law. It’s called the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and it took effect this summer.1 You can think of it as a one-state version of the GDPR — the European General Data Protection Regulation — that we all struggled with when it took effect two years ago.2

The statute gives California residents new privacy rights including “The right to know about the personal information a business collects about them and how it is used and shared; The right to delete personal information collected from them (with some exceptions); (and) The right to opt-out of the sale of their personal information…”3 And it applies to any business with more than $25 million in annual revenues — whether it’s in California or not — that do business in California.

And since Ancestry both has offices in California, serves customers there, and does more than $25 million in business, it’s covered.

So… the big change in both the Ancestry Terms and Conditions and the privacy statement, entitled Your Privacy — which took effect on Wednesday, 23 September 2020 — is to add language “to address requirements under the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”)”.4 As a matter of fact, the privacy statement includes a whole section entitled “California Resident Additional Privacy Statement (California customers only).”5

There’s not a lot different in that section, but it sets out in detail how Californians can exercise their rights under the CCPA. So if you’re from California, read section 17, “California Resident Additional Privacy Statement (California customers only).”

For the rest of us, the changes are mostly in the organization of both documents — both now have a table of contents, to make finding specific parts easier — and to some of the language.

In the Terms and Conditions, an Introduction spells out that the terms apply to “any of the Ancestry websites, services, and mobile apps that link to these terms—Ancestry®, AncestryDNA®, AncestryHealth®,™, Find a Grave®,®, Archives®, and WeRemember®—as well as other related brands …” and to “(a)ny new features included in the Services in the future…”6

The document then goes through a lot of language clean-up that’s generally insignificant. In section 1.3, for example, the language used to read in part “you agree … To comply with all applicable laws” and it now reads “you agree that you will … Comply with all applicable laws.”

There is some new clarifying language that is important:

• The terms and conditions now add an important warning in unequivocal terms as to any form of genealogical research: “When using our Services, you may discover unexpected facts about yourself, your family, or your health (e.g. you may discover an unknown genetic sibling or parent, surprising facts about your ethnicity, unanticipated genetic test results, or unexpected information in public records). Once discoveries are made, we can’t undo them.”7

• DNA results from Ancestry may not be used “in any judicial proceeding.”8

• As to content from Ancestry that is in the public domain (the images of census records, for example), users must now “obtain (Ancestry’s) written permission if you want to use more than a small portion of individual photos and documents that are Public Domain Content.”9

• All terms applicable to the AncestryHealth service have been combined in a new section 12.10

• The terms can be modified at any time, effectively immediately if the changes are those “addressing new functions in the Services or changes made for legal reasons” or effective 30 days after being posted for all other changes. Notice of changes will be made “by posting information through the Services or via email.”11

And then in the privacy statement there are some language changes that are important too:

• Ancestry now expressly states that “Information about deceased persons is not Personal Information under this Privacy Statement.”12

• Ancestry specifically suggests that users creating a profile “consider limiting this information and using a username that is different from your real name to protect your privacy.”13

• The privacy provisions can be changed at any time, but the new version deletes the provision that mere use of Ancestry services after a change in the provisions will be proof of consent to the change.14

Bottom line: in my opinion,15 there are clearly some language changes to be aware of, but — as far as I can see — nothing truly shocking or requiring anything of an “oh-my-gosh-the-privacy-sky-is-falling” reaction.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Ancestry updates its terms, 2020,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted date).


  1. See generally “California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA),” State of California, Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General ( : accessed 25 Sep 2020).
  2. If you don’t remember, you can refresh your recollection. See Judy G. Russell, “The casualties of GDPR,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 May 2018 ( : accessed 25 Sep 2020). Followed by “The GDPR, you & me,” posted 21 May 2018; “Cutting cookies,” posted 22 May 2018; “Delivering the (e)mail…,” posted 23 May 2018; “A GDPR favor to ask…,” posted 24 May 2018; and “Enough with the GDPR!,” posted 25 May 2018.
  3. California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).”
  4. Summary of Changes,” Your Privacy, effective 23 Sep 2020, ( : accessed 25 Sep 2020).
  5. Ibid., §17, “California Resident Additional Privacy Statement (California customers only).”
  6. “Introduction,” Ancestry Terms and Conditions, effective 23 Sep 2020, ( : accessed 25 Sep 2020).
  7. Ibid., §1.3,“ Use of the Services.”
  8. Ibid., §1.4, “Additional Terms Applicable to Use of DNA Services.”
  9. Ibid., §2.1, “Ancestry Content.”
  10. Ibid., §12, “AncestryHealth® ADDITIONAL TERMS AND CONDITIONS (US Customers Only).”
  11. Ibid., §11, “Miscellaneous: Modifications to these Terms.”
  12. §1, “Introduction,” Your Privacy, effective 23 Sep 2020, ( : accessed 25 Sep 2020).
  13. §3, “What Personal Information Does Ancestry Collect From You? : Profile Information.”
  14. §13, “Changes to This Statement.”
  15. You remember the “this is not legal advice and I’m not your lawyer” disclaimer I give every year, right? See Judy G. Russell, “Rules of my road: 2020,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Jan 2020 ( : accessed 25 Sep 2020).
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