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If I understand the guidelines correctly, we are not supposed to refer to by name, date of place of birth, or any identifying detail of any living person on the site.

This understanding derives from the Help which says:

You must not include here in any circumstances information (including name, date and place of birth or any other details) that would allow identification of any living (or possibly) living individual by somebody reading this site. In practice, this means details about anyone born in the last 100 years, whether they are believed to be deceased or not, and whether or not they have given their permission.

Why is that? Is it because of potential legal complications that might ensue?

How would genealogy exchange policies on personal information compare with being able to identify, e.g. President Obama or President Putin of Russia on the Politics SE site, or say, Presidents Bush or Clinton on the History site? Is it because these are public figures, whereas most people referred to on this site are private persons?

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  • I suspect that this is underpinned by the Stack Exchange, Inc. Official Privacy Policy but has been distilled down to that statement of Genealogy & Family History SE policy through earlier Q&As here at Meta G&FH SE. – PolyGeo Sep 8 '14 at 21:44
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    If we quit referencing details from most 20th century (public) records, G&FH SE might as well close up shop. – bgwiehle Sep 9 '14 at 22:55
  • @bgwiehle I cannot agree with that sentiment. I've asked 30 questions here so far and I (and I suspect their answerers) have not needed to give a second thought to this constraint during those Q&As. I have not performed any analysis but my perception is that any account needs to be taken of it for perhaps 10-20% of questions at most. – PolyGeo Sep 10 '14 at 3:37
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    @bgwiehle the principle is not to publish details that would identify living individuals. Not to ban all details from all 20th century public records. With 20th century records, I do think a bit more responsibility is needed, compared with earlier centuries. – Jan Murphy Sep 10 '14 at 4:09
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The Stack Exchange Terms of Service includes the following:

Subscriber represents, warrants and agrees that it will not contribute any Subscriber Content that ... (c) infringes any intellectual property right of another or the privacy or publicity rights of another

and also:

Under no circumstances will Subscriber use the Network or the Service to ... (b) harass, threaten, stalk or abuse any person or party, including other users of the Network

See also the Stack Exchange privacy policy.

Genealogy is by nature a nosy hobby. Like other academic subjects which involve the study of people, in order to participate, you have to stick your nose into other people's business.

Ethical researchers whose research involves living people try to achieve a balance between doing their work and preserving the privacy of the research subjects. One has to draw the line somewhere. It's common for researchers to remove personally identifying information when they publish their research.

The G&FH.SE guidelines follow the same underlying principles that govern the release of record collections (e.g in the USA, Social Security applications made by people that were born more recently than 100 years ago have some information redacted; census records in England and Wales are usually not released until 100 years after the census was taken).

Everyday etiquette also dictates that it is rude to talk about living people behind their backs. If you want to talk about the personal history of a living relative, go and talk to them. If they have a question about their own family, and to ask that question here would require them to relinquish their own privacy rights, the choice about what information to post should be theirs to make and not yours.

There is precedent for having restrictions for posting information about living individuals on the Internet.

Wikipedia's article: Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons, in the section Avoid misuse of primary sources, says, in part:

Do not use public records that include personal details, such as date of birth, home value, traffic citations, vehicle registrations, and home or business addresses.

In the section Privacy of personal information and using primary sources Wikipedia says:

With identity theft a serious ongoing concern, people increasingly regard their full names and dates of birth as private.

Ancestry.com has restrictions on what can be posted on their online family trees:

In order to ensure the privacy of its members, Ancestry.com automatically hides information for all living individuals. Only the owner of the tree and the owner's selected guests can view living individuals within a tree.

Note: Individuals are considered to be living if they are under 100 years old and have no information in the death date field.

Other sites online which have online trees undoubtedly have similar policies. The principle is the same: you can give away your own information, but it's not ethical to give away the right to privacy that belongs to someone else.

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  • "Everyday etiquette also dictates that it is rude to talk about living people behind their backs." But that doesn't apply to Obama and Putin on the Politics SE site? Or Presidents Bush and Clinton on the History SE site, or Derek Jeter on the Sports SE site? That's just for Genealogy and Family HIstory, right? – Tom Au Sep 9 '14 at 18:55
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    There is a big difference between talking about a person's work output and talking about their personal lives. – Jan Murphy Sep 9 '14 at 18:59

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