If you do one thing today, share this security tip with family and friends. This morning, writer Anna Brittain took to Twitter with a warning that has since gone viral:
It didn't take long for other users to confirm that Brittain's warning was well founded. The site in question contains not only birth dates of spouses, siblings, and parents, but also physical home addresses that date back decades. According to a source listing at the bottom of the webpage, FamilyTreeNow compiles this information from "1000's of U.S. public records sources, including property, business, historical, and current records." We tried it ourselves, and sure enough, most R29 staffers reported that their own personal data was easily searchable on the site. FamilyTreeNow is far from alone — there are plenty of other ancestry and genealogy sites, as well as people-search sites like Spokeo and PeekYou, that publish similar information. But while most of those charge users a fee to actually see any information, FamilyTreeNow is making it available for free to anyone with internet access. Obviously, this easier access can pose a serious safety threat. "Certain pieces of information could be used to gain access to some of your online accounts," says Satnam Narang, Senior Security Response Manager at Norton by Symantec. "For instance, an example security question like the name of the first street you grew up could easily be answered if an attacker looked up your information on FamilyTreeNow." And while getting hacked is bad, there are also much more frightening scenarios that could result from having your current home address visible to practically anyone. So, what do you do about it? First, opt-out of having your listing posted on FamilyTreeNow, Spokeo, and PeekYou. (In some cases, you may need to try two or three times before your attempt goes through.) If you want someone to do a deeper-dive into your public profiles online, there are also services such as Abine that will do so for a fee. And finally, consider sharing this information with your friends and family, in case they want to be removed from these public records sites, too. It's scary to go online and see a list of your personal details accessible with a single click. But by taking a few quick steps, it is possible to boost your online protection and have some peace of mind, too.