On 4th August, the news reached the #Genealogy community on Twitter, resulting in a kind of virtual ‘meltdown’ by concerned genealogists and family historians. But why?
The implications of the update to @Ancestry’s ToC were the subject of a short item by Judy G Russell on her Blog (follow the link to read her take on it), resulting in an outcry by many in the community, because as Judy explains, the change means that, in effect, Ancestry can now use your uploaded content (photos, stories, etc.) in any way they see fit, for evermore – without your express permission.
As a result, several users have stated their intention to immediately remove their photos, others have said they will cancel their subscriptions and delete their trees (one hopes they will at least download a Gedcom file of the content they have so painstakingly amassed over the years, to use offline) because they are horrified by the idea that Ancestry may use their content for advertising, perhaps even to their financial gain.
I will admit, that my first, knee-jerk reaction was ‘How dare they?!’. But then I got to thinking about it. Why do we create family trees? Why do we share our personal images online, share our ancestors stories? For me, it is all about putting my ancestor’s images and information out there in the hope that they might reach a distant and unknown relation searching for ancestors and their extended families. I -and I suspect the vast majority of Ancestry users – do NOT put my media up there in the hope of making money out of it… but if Ancestry decides one day to use one of my images in an advertisement or a blog or other commercial content, why would I mind? Might it not even help fellow family historians/researcher to find another ancestor? If the images are not named, no harm or foul. If they are named or written about, that’s fine by me – perhaps a distant cousin might see it and realise the name is one they’ve been researching….
If people are uploading content to Ancestry that they don’t want anyone to see, well… why? Surely the whole idea is to make connections? How will getting in a snit because ancestry might just use one of your images in a peice of advertising or a blog harm that goal? I don’t think it will. I don’t particularly care if Ancestry might gain a thousand or ten thousand new subscribers by using some of my content – anything that draws new users to the site, who might have links to a distant family member of mine, is fine by me.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that anyone who now wants to remove their content is in the wrong – it’s their choice, just as it is mine to leave my content up. But I do think that by removing material that others might have been delighted to discover at some point, it is rather at odds with the whole idea of having a tree in the first place.
I feel very sad about those discoveries that now may never be made because someone didn’t like the idea that Ancestry now has perpetual rights to use their uploaded content for Ancestry’s own use. I state on my Ancestry Bio, and I always say to new Ancestry contacts, please feel free to use anything on my tree that is of interest to you, and I greatly appreciate all those photos uploaded by distant cousins that I’ve been able to add to my own tree in return- it is such a huge pleasure to put a face to what was previously just a name and a series of dates… to be able to see family likenesses stretching across the generations. To look into the eyes of the 3 x great grandparent via an image someone else was kind enough to share. Oh, I do realise that some will still share images privately if messaged, but how will people cope with the possibility of message after message of people looking for images that were previously freely available to see, share and use? And many people will be put off by having to ask, I suspect.
So please, do think long and hard before you remove your images and stories… does making it inaccessible to people who might be related to you, feel like the right thing to do? In a way, we don’t even exclusively ‘own’ our ancestors, we share them with thousands of other people. That is why I will continue to share my photographs and stories on Ancestry, regardless.
Elaine Jackson 5th August 2021
What do YOU think of Ancestry’s decision to avail themselves of your uploaded content on Ancestry? Will it affect what you share on your tree?