A website that presents itself as a genealogy tracker is coming under fire for how startlingly easy it makes it for anyone on the to quickly track down extensive personal information on anyone and everyone.
FamilyTreeNow.com, which was launched in 2014, according to the site, features a simple search bar on the homepage where users can input a first and last name and state.
Records for those under the searched name can be clicked into, and provide birth year, age, links to family members, links to possible associates, phone numbers, and current and past addresses, alongside the years of residence.
The search is free to do, and requires no account or log-in.
“Everything on this site is 100 percent free,” FamilyTreeNow.com boasts. “Running searches, viewing details, everything! Other genealogy and ancestry sites charge fees, not us!”
The information has been compiled by mining “billions of historical records including census (1790-1940) records, birth records, death records, marriage & divorce records, living people records, and military records.”
One woman’s discovery of the site prompted her to create an online chain about how to quickly remove your information from FamilyTreeNow.com’s databases. Her instructions have gone viral, and were covered by the Washington Post, among others.
Anna Brittain, who started the Twitter thread, tells PEOPLE her sister alerted her to the site.
“She called me yesterday morning – she’s a social worker, a child advocate for the state, so that puts her in a little bit of danger,” she explains. “She’s really very concerned with making sure there’s not a way to connect her to my kids. She checks her online footprint four times a year, for that reason, and this one just scared her to death because it listed my children as possible associates for her.”
Brittain, a YA writer, says that almost all of the information on her record card was correct. It even listed her step-father’s ex-wife as her possible associate. On her mother’s page, a young man who briefly stayed with the family for a few weeks during Brittain’s sister’s high school years was listed.
The results were even scarier for Alyssa Keele of Washington.
Keele tells PEOPLE that someone she has a restraining order against was linked to her records.
“The restraining order I have is against one of the ‘known associates’ that pops up on my profile, who is someone that’s highly dangerous,” she says. “My current address popped up on there and I was legitimately scared.”
She says she saw Brittain’s instructions and was able to opt out, but noted, “They don’t make it easy to hide your information.”
FamilyTreeNow.com and the man listed on LinkedIn as the site’s founder did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment. The Washington Post similarly was unable to immediately get in touch with a representative of the site.
While opting out of FamilyTreeNow.com is fairly easy to do, Brittain notes – and many of the people who responded to her Twitter posts also point out – that there are numerous other similar sites that collect information of public record.
Prominent ones include Spokeo, PeekYou, BeenVerified and Whitepages. These websites do simple searches for free, but for information like full telephone numbers and addresses, payments and accounts are required.
Some, like FamilyTreeNow.com, have opt out options – many of which were compiled by journalist Julia Angwin, on her website, as highlighted by the Post. There’s also a helpful opt out list instruction available on Reddit.
Brittain also points to Crash Override Network as a resource for anyone dealing with online abuse – which is often aided by information accessible on database sites.
Says Brittain, “Internet literacy is something you have to learn that they don’t really teach you at school.”
Here is how to opt out of FamilyTreeNow.com:
- Visit the homepage
- At the bottom of the page, click on ‘Privacy‘
- Under the Privacy Police header, click on ‘Opt Out of Living People Records’
- Click the box that proves you are not a robot, then click ‘Begin Opt Out Procedure’
- Enter the relevant information for the person you want to opt out
- Click into the correct record
- Click the ‘Opt Out This Record’ red button at the top of the page