If you’re using Ancestry.com and you’ve uploaded some family photos and documents there –now might be a good time to take them down. The website that helps you discover your family history has just helped itself with rights to all your photos. Its recently updated Terms and Conditions allow Ancestry to use your photos in whichever way it pleases, forever.
Ancestry.com is a website dedicated to genealogy. It counts several millions of members who have uploaded two billion family trees on the site so far. Other than names and personal data, these family trees also contain photos of family members and documents like birth, death, or marriage certificates. So, it’s no wonder that Ancestry’s new Terms and Conditions sparked controversy:
“Also, by submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. This includes the right for Ancestry to copy, display, and index your User Provided Content. Ancestry will own the indexes it creates.”
Two days after hearing back from alarmed users, Ancestry published a blog post to clarify the update. It also added a clause that lets you delete your content from the site, which will automatically revoke Ancestry’s permission to use it. However, as long as other users have your public content saved and copied on their profiles, Ancestry still has the license to use it. So, you’re not actually safe even if you delete it.
“Notwithstanding the non-revocable and perpetual nature of this license, it terminates when your User Provided Content is deleted from our systems. Be aware that to the extent you elected to make your User Provided Content public and other users copied or saved it to the Services, this license continues until the content has been deleted both by you and the other users.”
Ancestry reassures its users, writing that its purpose is “connecting our users and enabling them to share discoveries about their family history with each other.”
“It was never intended to enable Ancestry to do anything with our users’ content other than facilitate a vibrant family history community that brings the value of personal discoveries to all,” the blog post reads. Still, it’s not clarified anywhere how your photos might be used. Ancestry also doesn’t clarify why it needs to have this kind of license over your content. I would personally not be happy knowing that someone is legally allowed to use my photos as they please, while at the same time verbally convincing me that they won’t do it. I just don’t feel comfortable with that kind of arrangement.
The new Terms and Conditions go into effect on 2 September 2021. So, you still have time to choose what you want to do with your content. You can make it private for now so other users can’t copy it. And if you share my opinion, you may want to just go and delete it straight away.