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

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