The Atlantic

How FamilyTreeNow Makes Stalking Easy

The site is only one of many unregulated online people-search services that offer up personal information with few safeguards on how it’s used.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Last week, Anna Brittain, a young-adult author based in Birmingham, Alabama, got a surprising text from her sister. As a part of a routine search for her own internet footprint—Brittain’s sister works at a child-advocacy center—she had entered her own name into the genealogy site FamilyTreeNow she’d just read about on Facebook. Something unusual popped up: Her niece, Brittain’s kids, were listed as her “associates.”

Brittain was rattled. Her sister’s profession puts her at risk of retaliation, and Brittain didn’t want her young kids to be put in harm’s way, too. She followed a labyrinthine set of steps to remove her and her husband’s profiles from the website, and tweeted out instructions for others to do the same.

By the next morning, the first tweet in her thread had been retweeted more than 3,000 times. Replies ranged from disbelief to anger, as other users urged their friends and family to opt out, too. The site’s profile-removal tool soon buckled under the weight of the traffic, leaving people to send manual removal requests through the website’s contact form.

(I reached out to FamilyTreeNow through its website, and to its founder, Dustin Weirich, whose contact information I

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min read
How Milo Yiannopoulos's Berkeley 'Free Speech Week' Fell Apart
The former Breitbart editor’s attempt to schedule a provocative event on the liberal campus featuring high-profile conservative speakers didn’t work out as planned.
The Atlantic4 min read
Kingsman: The Golden Circle Is More Farce Than Satire
While the sequel shares some of its predecessor’s strengths, this installment of the comic-action franchise is broader and less original.
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
John McCain Saves Obamacare Once Again
The Arizona Republican announced his opposition to the latest GOP repeal plan, all but certainly giving its critics the votes to block it.