11 October 2012

Is Your Grandmother On Facebook? Ancestry.com Wants to Know, But Why?

There is a "new" feature from Ancestry.com that links your tree (or creates a tree) based on your friends list on Facebook. I say "new", because it's actually been out for a few months. They've taken it down, put it back up, taken it down, tweaked it, put it back up, tweaked it again...... And now they are touting this "new" feature. Naturally, people have a few questions: What does it look like? How does it work? What does Ancestry share with Facebook? Why would I want to use it? And of course How long before someone screws it up?

First, let's talk about where to find it on Ancestry and what it looks like. You can find a link on every living person asking "is so-n-so on Facebook?" The image below is from my tree with the personal information blotted out. As you can see, it's just a simple blue link on the page. Some have called it an "eyesore" already. I'm not so sure about that. I find it easily ignorable, but there are others that are saying this link is ugly and obtrusive. Is there a way to get the link to go away? Not at all. Wish there was? Send a feedback to Ancestry so they can get their developers on it.

So it's, like, this out-of-place blue link? Fabulous.

Ancestry's blog has a new post covering some of the complaints/concerns that have come their way. There are some points they put on the plus side. The "why would I use this?" is answered with:
  • The app pulls the profile picture of the linked people and updates it as they update their Facebook profile.
  • If your relative lists their birthday, the app will add it to your tree.
  • With their Facebook profile linked, it's a simple click to go to that profile so you can message relatives.
  • It searches your profile for those you've marked as relatives and then searches the profiles of those relatives for people they've marked relatives so you can connect to people you may not know are on Facebook.
Obviously Ancestry isn't going to bring up the cons in a blog post advertising this amazing new connectivity. That's what I'm here for. The photo below is from my brother's profile. The blue link is now just "Facebook Profile". Still there, still blue. So if you thought the first link was obtrusive, this isn't any less so. Then there's that profile photo. Sure it's nice to see my brother's smiling face when he's using it as his Facebook photo, but as you can see, he likes Lolcats too. Not something I want to see on my tree. Sure it's fun when your god-awful aunt has a crab for her photo. (It's just so fitting, isn't it?) But if they are passing along their political message in that photo (or showing off their favorite Suicide Girl), relatives you've invited to view the living on your tree may be upset. I also tested the photo for my own profile. When I changed the photo on Facebook, the original wasn't saved on Ancestry. So even though I at once had a photo of my grandmother and myself on my profile, it's not there anymore. If I'm linked in another relative's tree and change my photo, they don't get to have a copy of that picture. But that may be a bit of a good thing. At least I can be sure the media tab on my tree isn't being filled up with "Ice cream zombies".

So there are some issues.

While Ancestry makes privacy for the living a big deal, Facebook has had issues with that in the past. They are taking it more seriously now, but the trust once lost isn't easily restored. I recommend reading the Terms of Service for both sites. When you click the "Is so-n-so on Facebook" link, the first thing you get is a box that has links to the Terms of Use. READ THEM. Don't come back to me later saying you didn't know what was going on. It looks like they are tying up the privacy pretty well.... from your end that is. The thing is, I added 93 people to my tree using this application. 50 of them aren't in my friends list. I found them from the friends lists of my relatives. Of those 50, 20 are cousins I don't know personally. 10 are the relatives of my sister-in-law (whom I will admit I've never met in person as my brother is in the military and they've spent most of my life halfway around the globe). The others had to be deleted after finding out my idiot teenage cousins listed their friends as relatives when they aren't. How cute. I caught quite a few when I was loading them in (obviously my 13 year old cousin isn't married), but some I took on face value as one will do. Then I contacted my cousins to learn more about their "other side" relatives. Now, that's a step that not everyone will take. I am glad I did, because I was able to clean out those incorrect relatives and get the skinny on the right relatives (with a few friend invites from them- I do so love being the "family genealogist"). That's problem one with the privacy set up.

The second is that my relatives weren't notified when I connected their profile. Their relatives that I'm not connected to in anyway on Facebook didn't get a notification. I had the option of notifying them and asking if they wanted to view my tree, but I didn't have to. So here are 93 people that I've connected to with their profile photo. A public photo to be sure, but it's being shared on a site that they don't know about. As long as I'm the only person using the tree, it'll probably be no problem....... of course, I share my tree with relatives far and wide on both sides of my family. So now my 3rd cousin on my Whitfield side can see the profile pic of my first cousin on the Householder side. They aren't blood kin, but at least now each knows what the other looks like. Is that a good thing? I know Facebook requires the user to be at least 13 years old, but I also know my 10 year old cousin lied on his birth date to get a profile. So now not only is his birthday wrong on my tree, but his profile picture is visible to anyone invited to my tree. Ideally the people I'm sharing my tree with are family that I know and trust. That's why Ancestry NEVER shows living people even on a public tree. You have to invite someone to your tree AND give them permission to view the living. You can invite people without giving them the living. Keep that in mind if you have any worries.

The Facebook side of the application.
So Ancestry tries to tie up the privacy as good as it might. And I applaud their efforts. On the other hand, Facebook allows my public profile photo to be downloadable even by people who don't know me. (Not that people couldn't find a way to get a copy anyway). Facebook has a nasty habit of making privacy opt-in instead of opt-out. I can see where the worry comes from for this application. It's not Ancestry they don't trust, it's Facebook. Ancestry is trying to create this great social media campaign to increase its usability and increase interest in a younger market. I get that. What I don't like is the inability to opt out of this grand experiment. And I certainly wouldn't consider myself old or out of date. Heck, I know a few octogenarians who are tech savvy and proud of it. I really don't see the objections as an age thing. Young and old are worried about a permeable layer between a trusted and protected research site and a social media site with a spotty record on privacy. And there are those who don't like the link so prominent on the page. They'd prefer it in the right-hand column where one can add weblinks. And if the Facebook app takes off, how long before we have a Google+, Twitter or Pinterest link? How much clutter can the profile page take? What about those non-relations that your relatives mark as siblings, spouses or parents because they find it fun or honorific rather than factual? We already know how badly trees can be mangled with thoughtless clicking and merging and now we're adding another site into the mix. I agree with those who see more problems than blessings in this new venture.

With all that said, it's up to you whether you use it or not. I do recommend taking a moment to message Ancestry and ask for an opt-out option even if you plan to use the application. You may like it now, but hate it later (And you'll show support for those who wish to have the link removed from an aesthetic angle if nothing else). Let your relatives know you've connected their profile so that if they feel uncomfortable they can ask you to disconnect their profile from your tree. Take the same precautions you'd take with any personal information about the living. Know what is protected by default and what you need to take action to protect on both ends of the transaction. In the end, try it out. Know what's going on even if you disconnect it right after trying it. At least then your complaints will be educated and precise. Like mine: The darn application hasn't worked all day. I used it a month ago and wanted to reuse it today to get more screenshots. The stupid thing had so many errors that I ended up closing it out. Many people are experiencing problems. Probably because so many are trying it out now that it's being advertised. So even if you want to try it, you'll need the patience to stumble through the errors, report major problems, and receive a less than spectacular final product when compared to the troubles to use it.

That's my opinion at least,


  1. The last screenshot clearly displays an email address. I'm not sure if it's yours or not, but you may want to blur it out.

    1. I thank you for your concern. It is my email address. You'll note that I have a blurb on the right side of my page offering my services as a genealogist that also lists that email address. I thought about blurring it out, but considering I have it out there already it was a moot point. Again, thanks for noticing and taking the time to bring it to my attention.

    2. This merging of Ancestry and Facebook makes me ponder deleting my tree from Ancestry... My tree is private I want to keep it that way, but facebook's tendencies are to collect all data, let everyone see it, THEN tell you you have control over your privacy...

      I really wish there was a way to disable this "feature" before allowing anyone to see my tree...

    3. The tool doesn't share your tree. It adds FB friends to your tree.