Irish Roots


May 25 2015

Beware: you're not the customer. You're the raw material.

John Grenham

Back in 2011, Dick Eastman (blog.eogn.com), the doyen of North American genealogy commentators and a very straight talker, described mocavo.com as "the future of genealogy". Naturally, I investigated. I had to upload information to explore the site, but its privacy policy promised all my data would be private unless I agreed otherwise and could be deleted at any point. Fair enough. I then uploaded a chunk of my own family tree, played around with it, decided the "user-generated content" approach wasn't for me, deleted my tree and logged out.

In 2014, a Google search turned up a link to a distant cousin on Mocavo that came from what I had uploaded: "The key to your family history may lie in John Grenham's genealogy". I logged in again and looked very closely at the profile settings in my account. Tucked away discreetly at the bottom was a default option: "Allow legacy searches". How could they could be "legacy" searching a tree I'd deleted? But I just unticked the box and forgot about it.

Then last week another Google search uncovered someone else in my family. A systematic check unearthed dozens of links to the original information I had supposedly deleted. So I contacted the company and asked them to stop using my private tree to sell their service.

First, they said they got the data from somewhere else. When I pointed out information that was unique to my tree, they said the pages weren't publicly available. When I sent them screenshots showing the pages, they told me I had to prove my identity to have them taken down. When I sent a scan of my passport, they took down some of the information, but not all. They then denied the remaining bits were there. Eventually, after much bluster, everything came down. I think.

The experience was truly Kafkaesque, and the moral is clear: Beware.

You're not the customer. You're the raw material.

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2011

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