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Finally, less law-geek-speak…

So it’s August, which means Ancestry can be expected to come out with its annual updates to its privacy policy and terms of service.

Which is why it was no surprise when the email landed in The Legal Genealogist‘s inbox: “We’ve updated our Terms and Privacy Statement.”

Ancestry TOS 2022

Terms of service (or terms of use), remember, are the limits somebody who owns something we want to use (like a website) puts on whether or not he’ll let us use it. This isn’t copyright law; it’s contract law — we and whoever owns the thing we want to use reach a deal: a website lets us access the site and its information and we agree to use it only in the ways the website says we can.1 Wikipedia says terms of use, terms of service and terms and conditions are all the same thing (they are) and defines the phrase as “the legal agreements between a service provider and a person who wants to use that service. The person must agree to abide by the terms of service in order to use the offered service.”2

That’s a good definition, and, in this case, the terms of use govern whether we can use the Ancestry website and, if we do, what rights we’re giving Ancestry.

Now you remember the kerfuffle last year, when Ancestry updated its terms to assert a perpetual and non-revocable license to user-contributed content. Under the law, that meant a user couldn’t change his or her mind about any content uploaded to the service: as of the effective date of that change, the user had gifted the rights to use that content to Ancestry, forever.3

After pushback by users — including this one — Ancestry retreated and said it really didn’t mean it: “Notwithstanding the non-revocable and perpetual nature of this license, it terminates when your User Provided Content is deleted from our systems.”4

Well, finally, it looks like the legal team at Ancestry has gotten it right. They’ve dumped the law-geek-speak terminology, gone with as close to plain English as we’re likely to get, and made things as clear as we’re likely to see:

Ancestry does not claim any ownership rights to Your Content, control how you choose to share Your Content within the Services, or limit how you share Your Content outside of Ancestry’s Services.5

By submitting Your Content, you grant Ancestry a non-exclusive, sub-licensable, worldwide, royalty-free license to host, store, index, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use Your Content to provide, promote, or improve the Services, consistent with your privacy and sharing settings. You can terminate Ancestry’s license by deleting Your Content, except to the extent you shared Your Content with others and they have used Your Content. You also agree that Ancestry owns any indexes that include Your Content and may use them after Your Content is deleted.6

So the perpetual and non-revocable license language is gone, hopefully for good.7 In short: stuff you upload is yours. You can use it elsewhere if you want to. You can remove it from Ancestry if you decide you want to. But if it’s been uploaded publicly (such as attached to a public tree), and other users have used it, Ancestry isn’t going to scrub their accounts. And if info you’ve contributed has been added to an index, it stays in the index even if you’ve deleted the contributed source document.

So… what else did Ancestry change besides this?

Not much we really need to be concerned about. It changed its old language about needing a parent’s or guardian’s consent to use Ancestry “(i)f you are between the ages of 13 and 18” to reflect the fact that the age of consent may be different in differing jurisdictions. It now says you need consent if you are “between the ages of 13 and the age of consent where you reside.”8

It’s expanded its explanation of its dispute resolution system for Americans (we can sue in small claims court or go to binding arbitration, and no class actions), but without any change in the basic structure of the system.9

It added a section that says it “does not accept, review, or consider unsolicited ideas or materials (including, without limitation, new advertising campaigns, new promotions, new products or technologies, processes, materials, marketing plans, or new product names)” and if anybody does send along an unsolicited idea, it’s fair game.10

It added required language about privacy rights of users in jurisdictions with specific privacy laws, such as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia and Australia.11

And that’s pretty much it this time around.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Getting it right,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 16 Aug 2022).


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Reprise: a terms of use primer,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Apr 2015 ( : accessed 16 Aug 2022).
  2. Wikipedia (, “Terms of service,” rev. 14 Aug 2022.
  3. See Judy G. Russell, “One big change at Ancestry,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Aug 2021 ( : accessed 16 Aug 2022).
  4. See ¶ 2.2.3, “Ownership of Your Content” in “Ancestry Terms and Conditions,” 2021 version, ( : accessed 6 Aug 2021).
  5. ¶ 3.1, “You Control Your Content” in “Ancestry Terms and Conditions,” effective 15 Aug 2022, ( : accessed 16 Aug 2022).
  6. Ibid., ¶ 3.2, “Use of Your Content”.
  7. You’ll forgive me if I’m a bit smug about this. There were folks last year who insisted that web service providers needed that language. That they couldn’t do what they do without it. Snort. Right. The fact that that language isn’t there now proves my point from last year: it isn’t necessary. No commercial provider ought to acquire a “you can’t ever change your mind” license without buying it. No paying customer should ever be required to grant that license for free.
  8. ¶ 1.2, “Eligibility to Use the Services” in “Ancestry Terms and Conditions,” effective 15 Aug 2022.
  9. Ibid., ¶ 10.1, “Dispute Resolution, Arbitration and Class Action Waiver > For Customers in the United States.”
  10. Ibid., ¶ 11.9, “Unsolicited Idea Submission Policy.”
  11. See generally “Your Privacy,” effective 15 Aug 2022, ( : accessed 16 Aug 2022).
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