A seemingly innocent website knows who your family members are and where they live

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FamilyTreeNow

There’s a lot of information about you in public documents if you’ve ever signed a lease or applied for a loan – your address, your age, sometimes the identity of your family members.

It’s well known that a lot of sites around the internet, such as Spokeo, collect and compile that kind of information into databases.

But one innocuous-seeming website, FamilyTreeNow.com, found itself at the center of controversy earlier this week when some people realized that you could get information like a person’s address, family members, birth month, and phone number – within minutes and without ever creating an account.

Go check it out for yourself. Simply input your name and your state and see what it turns up for you. For me, it found my immediate family members, an old address I used to use, and my current address.

Anna Brittain, a young-adult fiction writer based in Alabama, discovered Family Tree Now, and tweeted out a series of instructions about how to remove your personal information that ended up going viral.

Her recommendations were picked up by The Washington Post, and several Facebook users, and Snopes eventually had to run an article to clear up misconceptions.

“Internet safety is important to anyone, and in particular the community I belong to on twitter sees a lot of targeted online abuse. Thanks to a volatile political climate, using our voices now comes with placing targets on our backs — particularly the marginalized groups Tr*mp has alienated and endangered most,” Brittain wrote in a blog post published on Thursday.

The good news is that Brittain’s instructions about how to opt-out are clear and effective. I was able to remove myself from its database quickly.

“DUE TO HIGH VOLUME, OPT OUT REQUESTS SUBMITTED HERE WILL BE SEVERELY DELAYED!!!” according to the FamilyTreeNow website. A request for comment was not immediately returned.

Here’s how to opt-out:


This is the front page of Family Tree Now. Put in your first and last name and state and see what it turns up.

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FamilyTreeNow

It found me!

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FamilyTreeNow

So let’s look at what it has on me. It knows what year I was born in, and the names of my brother and my parents, as well as my current address. It’s missing a few of my past addresses but it’s remarkably complete. But it also thinks I go by “Kim Leswing,” which is wrong.

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FamilyTreeNow

This isn’t good. Yes — someone committed to finding out this information could uncover it, but this was too easy for my comfort. Here’s how to get out. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “Privacy.”

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FamilyTreeNow

That will bring you to a page full of legal looking text.

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FamilyTreeNow

You’re looking for a small link under “Information We Collect.” It should say “opt out here.” It’s about halfway down the page.

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FamilyTreeNow

Is it just me, or does Family Tree Now give a lot more warning about opting out than it does when looking someone up?

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FamilyTreeNow

Beginning the opt-out process will bring you to another, more detailed look-up. Fill out your information again.

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FamilyTreeNow

You’ll want to press the big red button.

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FamilyTreeNow

Congrats! Don’t forget to check back in a few hours to make sure you’ve actually been removed.

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FamilyTreeNow

In my case, it worked pretty quickly — within the hour.

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FamilyTreeNow

Anna Brittain, who first publicized the website, has more information and recommendations below: