We accept the fact that people can find out a good bit about us by visiting our social media accounts. Did you know that even if you have no social media presence, people can still learn a lot about you and your family with a quick visit to a website?
FamilyTreeNow.com is one of several companies online that aggregates public information and places it in a database that's available for free. Simply visit the website, enter in a name and city where they live to find out what information is public.
When I searched, I found not only my name but the names of my family members, both immediate and extended family. Every phone number I've had. Every email address and home address, including a little apartment I lived in for about 6 months. The site even puts the address on a map.
John Hunter searched for his name and while it didn't appear, information about his wife, mother, father, and grandmother was displayed on the screen in less than 5 seconds.
"That's my phone number," he said.
Hunter told me, even knowing how much is put on the internet using social media accounts, it was still surprising to see his family's personal information available to anyone.
"It could lead to fraud. Or your address if someone wants to find you. It's pretty scary," Hunter said.
People use FamilyTreeNow.com and similar websites to build their family tree. By entering all of their family members' names, those records are tied with one another in the online database whether the other family member wants to be associated or not.
It isn't illegal. Personal information has always been available by looking up public records, military records, birth and death certificates, tax information, and other databases that previously had to be searched for at county courthouses. Once the internet came along, all of that information could be aggregated and placed somewhere anyone can search for results using a computer or mobile device.
For $30, FamilyTreeNow will provide even more information by compiling a profile that shows if a person has any prior arrests for felonies or misdemeanors, speeding tickets, tax liens and a relatively complete background search.
Everyone is opted in databases such as this but you can opt-out and have the information removed from the FamilyTreeNow website. Keep in mind though, this isn't the only website that aggregates and posts that information for free. Removing your entire digital footprint will require someone to visit every site and ask to be removed.
I found it interesting that of the people I spoke to on and off camera, most generally accepted that more of their information is available to the public than they would want, but figure there's nothing they can do about it.
"I don't want to look," said one woman who spoke to me off-camera. "I prefer just keeping my head in the sand."
I've reached out to FamilyTreeNow to find out more about the information they post but haven't yet received a response. The company currently has 73 complaints posted to the Better Business Bureau about the information being posted without consent. The company has responded to all of the complaints offering to remove the information from their website.