We already have an (unstated?) practice of minimising the extent of images we publish from third-party sites who have Terms of Service that preclude it. Although we may be sailing close to the wind at times (or hiding behind a fair use interpretaion -- IANAL). For example the Ancestry Terms of Service say:

Online or other republication of Content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy.

(There's other relevant stuff there that's too long to quote).

However, we routinely allow the publication of elements of images taken from such sites, and some questions might not be answerable without those image elements.

There's been a question raised recently about some DNA result analysis at GEDmatch that in its original form published images from GEDmatch with kit names, numbers and chromosome data.

The GEDmatch Site Policy Statement says

We take steps to prevent your genealogy information from being available to the casual web surfer or to the search engines (e.g. Google)...

We take measures to ensure that only registered users have access to your results...

The nature of genealogy research requires the exchange of information. That use must also be tempered by respect for the rights and privacy of other individuals. Anybody found to be using this site in ways not consistent with this principal of human decency will be subject to an immediate ban with all their data removed. Examples include, but are not specifically limited to, spam mailing lists or publishing other people's results or personal information without their permission...

I'll also quote from the Stackexchange Terms of Service :

  1. Subscriber Content

You agree that all Subscriber Content that You contribute to the Network is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Exchange under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license... Subscriber warrants, represents and agrees Subscriber has the right to grant Stack Exchange and the Network the rights set forth above. 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

This is one simple question:

Are we willing to accept that our users may be contravening the Terms of Service of sites from which they pull images or other information?

With a few corollaries:

Does the answer differ depending on the nature of the data -- for example, if information about living people is published?

Are we as a community responsible for ensuring that the community adheres to the SE Terms of Service?

How should we pick and choose which elements of SE's policies we choose to enforce as a community policy, and which to leave to the 'conscience' of individual users? For example, we choose as a community to redact information about living people, in line with SE's ToS, even though we're not personally responsible for its publication. If we choose to take a different approach for different elements, can we articulate why?

Note: Reworded to focus on the Terms of Service question (I'll raise a separate question on handling DNA data).

  • Thanks for posting this. The answer to "Should we comply with the Terms of Service/Policy Statements of all sites from which our users quote?" is unequivocally yes, and there is no argument anyone can make to the contrary. We shouldn't contravene any website's terms of service. My question was more whether posting anonymized genetic data from sites like GEDmatch does actually constitute a breach in their terms, and why or why not.
    – Harry V. Mod
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 15:08
  • @HarryVervet if the terms of service state that it is a violation, then surely it is?
    – user104
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 15:16
  • 1
    The headline question is a good one, but the body talks a lot about other issues, mainly the posing of DNA-related data on Genealogy.SE. I think this question should be limited to the site terms issue, and the DNA issues, also important, should be discussed separately.
    – RobertShaw
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 21:40
  • 2
    I think revision 3 was the best: genealogy.stackexchange.com/posts/12809/revisions Not sure why @ColeValleyGirl felt it couldn't stand. Seems like fair use to me of the images.
    – WilliamKF
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 0:10
  • @WilliamKF My view was that the data provided was still personal data about living people who had provided it to you on the GEDmatch site in the expectation that it would stay there unless they gave permission otherwise. Nothing to do with fair use.
    – user104
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 7:08
  • @RobertShaw You may be right about splitting out the DNA issue, although it's the trigger for this particular question abour ToS. I'll reword this to focus on ToS and do another question about publishing DNA info (there are potential issues there that are independent of ToS).
    – user104
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 7:16
  • This is tricky, and was well worth asking.Overall I think we're broadly in "no harm, no foul" territory, but there is certainly scope for TOS violation problems. The Ancestry clause you quote can certainly be interpreted as making excerpt usage "sort of ok". A quick look at the Findmypast TOS does not reveal a similar clause (but there is even woolier language). And FMP even expressly forbids linking to their website without prior written consent! So there may not be a single approach that suits all data providers. I'll look in more detail later.
    – AndyW
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 8:33
  • And TheGenealogist expressly forbids "Looking up information in our databases on behalf of others, whether or not for payment", and will suspend accounts and impose fines for doing so. So even attempting to answer a question using TheGenealogist appears (technically at least) to violate their TOS. In all, the various sites have a surprising level of variation in permissiveness in their terms of service.
    – AndyW
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 10:02
  • @ColeValleyGirl While it may have come from personal data, in revision 3, there is nothing anybody could do of any significance with the information as it is first stripped of the people it is associated with and there is no means to undo that disassociation and secondly the data is a range of DNA segments, not the actual values of that segment so pretty useless other than to convey the question. By analogy: two unknown individuals had the same bank balances from June 1 to June 8, no info on what the balance was, just that it matched another unknown person's.
    – WilliamKF
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 18:36
  • @WilliamKF I'm obviously not being clear enough: Did you have the users consent to use their data in any way at all outside the GEDmatch site?
    – user104
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 6:05
  • Is it worth having an answer (or perhaps separate question) about the suitability of various sites' TOS to G&FH.SE? As commented above, some appear "sort of ok" with this, and others forbid it. It might be worth getting some clarity so that users don't violate Site A's terms by assuming they're the same as more permissive Site B's.
    – AndyW
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 12:37
  • @AndyW I'm getting the feel that the consensus is we shouldn't police the Ts & Cs of other sites. Am going to pull an answer together to that effect tomorrow. Might be worth just a reminder to users somewhere (perhaps near our statement on identifying living individuals) that it's their responsibility to check the Ts&Cs of every site form which they draw information so that they conform with the SE ToS of only publishing what they're entritled to grant right to. But I thunk the mods should check with SE powers-that-be that that's even allowable to say, or if it opens up SE to any liability...
    – user104
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 19:48

3 Answers 3


This response is about the headline question (other site's terms of service), and not about DNA issues.

A site's terms of service are a statement of the expectations for users of the site. They are presumed to constitute an agreement between a user of the site and the owners of the site.

The Stack Exchange Terms of Service are obviously relevant to stuff posted on this site, and a user posting things here needs to follow those terms when he posts (whether in new posts or in adding material in editing). Moderators and other users here are not obligated to take action regarding other's postings which violate those Stack Exchange terms (although they presumably are not prohibited from doing so).

A third-party site's terms of service are between that site and a user of that site. If a user of that site is also a Stack Exchange user, he should not post material from that site that he doesn't have rights to in a post on Stack Exchange. That's part of SE's terms of service. It may also be a violation of the third-party site's terms, but that is an issue between the user and that site.

Essentially, a person is responsible for what he does. Posts on SE which violate some other site's rights (such as copyright), are the responsibility of the person doing the posting of that material, not of SE (or other SE users). In the USA, this is a core part of the DMCA law. (The DMCA also provides that the third party can contact SE to have the material removed, and if SE does remove it, SE has no liability even though it appeared on SE's site for a period.)

To me, this makes sense. It also seems to follow rather naturally that users of SE should not worry about trying to police every other SE user's adherence to the terms imposed by third-party sites on those user's usage of those third-party sites. We, as users, are not really involved, and even SE itself has no responsibility to police postings for these sorts of issues.

Bottom line, we should each comply with the terms of the sites we use, and we should not be concerned with other's compliance.


Note: Edited to focus on ToS issue, in line with the edited question.

Personally, I'm (just about) comfortable with publishing extracts of images that are properly attributed and don't link back to anywhere except the provider's site (so that the whole image is only available under the provider's ToS).

And I'm happy with our current policy on protecting the identities of living people (which I think is an ethical as well as a ToS question).

I can live with the understanding that not everybody is as concerned about complying with other sites' ToS as I am, and that if they're found out, it's on their head, not mine. However, I think it could reflect poorly on us as a community, and would prefer that we took a stronger stance in all cases -- but maybe that's just me.

But there are circumstances where things interact, for example publishing sensitive personal data about living people provided to another site on the understanding that access to it would be controlled. I strongly believe we should take an definitive stance on conforming with the privacy elements of all sites' ToS, if only as part of our policy against publishing identifiable data on living people. (I'd say the same even if the data was derived from a publically-accessible source).

So my preference would be a policy of always complying with the ToS or Policy Statement of websites that are the source of of images and data, even if that makes things more difficult around here. If we adopt this, it couldn't be mandatory on all users to try to enforce it, but it will set an expectation about how we behave around here, and explain why some users may choose to make certain edits.

If we don't adopt that approach completely, I would still hope to see us protect the privacy of living people in all circumstances, including a definitive statement about respecting the privacy requirement of other sites.

I also recommend consulting the 'powers-that-be' on this topic, to ensure we're compliant with SE rules and regulations and blah-de-blah.


My opinion is pretty much exactly inline with that of @RobertShaw. We are not responsible for being the censors of all of our users posts. If we or SE gets a takedown request.. then that is different.. but I think Ancestry's policy falls very much under US Fair Use laws (the laws of which SE is governed) of information found on sounds.

We are also a genealogical community and the nature of genealogy is to go by the facts and try to find the facts. If we over censor ourselves from being able to leverage and use facts / sources we defeat the purpose of what we are trying to do.

Also, again going back to US law and the censorship topic, I specifically remember taking a class in college (pre-DMCA) where we had read case studies on how Yahoo (when they were the big ones on the block) and other sites got in trouble (effectively brought legal troubles upon themselves) by stating and trying to actively censor and police content. The outcome was that they ended up scaling it back to basically unlawful and user or content owner reported content.. as otherwise they became responsible. I quickly tried finding the case study but couldn't but its valid point. It is partially that precedant that allows social media and sites like SE to exist and have some inherit legal protections against their users activities.

I think we stick with the "users are responsible for their own content" perspective and assume that content they post are "unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy." (Ancestry's ToS); the only exception is we continue to stick to the no living people's PIFI rule.

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