Recently, Family Tree DNA sent two emails about the new Group Project privacy settings and policies that are now in effect. The first email was to project members, and the second was to administrators.
I’m combining information from both in this article, along with step-by-step instructions for what you need to do, whether you’re a project member or a project administrator.
Before GDPR came into force in May 2018, group project administrators had more latitude to help project members by viewing all fields and being able to change some that weren’t deemed critical to privacy. For example, administrators could add the member’s most distant ancestor, help them with a tree or enter the mapped location of their direct maternal or paternal ancestor. Administrators could not change personal things like name, e-mail, contact information or passwords.
With the arrival of GDPR, Family Tree DNA implemented changes in order to achieve compliance which had the unfortunate effect of restricting administrators’ ability drastically. With the pressure of the GDPR deadline past, Family Tree DNA has rethought some of the restrictions and made welcome modifications.
Who is Affected and What Changed?
Anyone who has tested at Family Tree DNA and is a member of any project is affected, even if you may not realize that you are.
Before we go any further, let’s discuss the privacy settings which fall into basically three categories:
- very low
- medium (normal)
In the chart below, we see the names assigned to the levels as of the GDPR rollout, and now. The names have changed.
The May 2018 names were problematic because some project members became confused, thinking that Project Only was giving full access for this project. Additionally, Full access wasn’t full, but did allow some modifications. Therefore, in an effort to minimize confusion, Family Tree DNA has now renamed the access levels. The () are my descriptions.
The GDPR Transition
In May, the pre-GDPR privacy settings for project members were programmatically converted to the new settings, the result being that many project members were converted over with new settings that were much more restrictive than they were previously. I am still hopeful that this issue will be addressed, because the expectation of individuals who joined projects in the 19 years before GDPR was that the administrators had access to work with their results – and always would have. Many of those individuals have been project members for years and have now passed away, eliminating any possibility of the project administrator obtaining even limited (partial view only) access from the member.
For example, with Minimal access, administrators can’t see either members results or trees. With Limited Access, project administrators can’t see the member’s personal profile or privacy selections, but at least can view their tree and results.
Furthermore, anyone who joined a project after May 25th was joined at the minimal level, requiring the new member to change their settings to Limited, providing the administrators a reasonable level of access. Most people didn’t realize that, and therefore the majority of people who have recently joined projects remain at the minimal level.
New Joins No Longer Default to Minimal
When joining a project, new members are currently given the option of assigning an administrator a level – meaning the minimum privacy level is no longer assigned as a default. This is a HUGE improvement.
Due to the transition as well as the “join” policy between May and August leaving many people with Miminum settings, project administrators may want to contact individuals who currently have the Minimum level and ask them to change their settings.
What matters currently is that you, or kits you manage, may now be at the MOST restrictive level which was originally called “Project Only” after conversion, but has now been renamed as “Minimal Required.”
From my perspective, if a group member does not want the administrators working with their results, they shouldn’t join the project. The purpose and focus of projects is collaboration.
New Settings and Permissions
The chart below, now shown to people when they join projects, summarizes the various abilities that administrators have under Minimal, Limited and Advanced.
With the most restrictive “Minimal Required” setting, administrators cannot see critical items such as a member’s tree or who they match. Minimal Required is extremely restrictive, which means that administrators can’t group the individual within the project appropriately.
With the original GDPR privacy rollout, many people were automatically converted to what is now “Minimal Required” and are unaware that their privacy selection has been downgraded.
Access Now Granted To Individual Administrators
Another change is that members now grant each individual project administrator a specific and different level of access unique to that administrator.
This change is quite beneficial, because you may want to grant one project administrator Advanced access which allows them to change some fields, while granting the rest Limited.
In this latest update, you can now grant all future project administrators an access level too, creating a legacy for future project administrators to have access to your results at the level you select.
After GDPR, new project administrators were only granted “minimal” access to every project member, meaning that in essence, new administrators were entirely hamstrung if every project member didn’t individually change their access for that administrator.
Needless to say, project members who joined projects before GDPR did not expect this would ever happen. Many have died or become disinterested and that meant that their results would forever be unavailable to new administrators.
Granting at least minimal access to future administrators assures that your DNA within a project will never be dead.
Another change last week was that new administrators are now granted Limited access, unless you specifically select either Minimal or Advanced access for new administrators.
Advanced Versus True Full Access
Advanced access is not the same as full access.
If you want an individual, project administrator or otherwise, to truly have full access to your account, you need to personally give them your kit number and password, realizing that allows them to function entirely “as you.” I have done this, because when I die, I want my DNA legacy to live vibrantly into the future.
Speaking of legacy, please take this opportunity to complete your beneficiary form so that Family Tree DNA knows who to allow access to your account after your death.
Bottom line – you need to check BOTH your “Privacy and Sharing” setting along with “Project Preferences” for each project that you belong to because your settings may be much more restrictive than you think they are.
Privacy and Sharing
The Privacy and Sharing tab allows your results to be shown in the public project.
You MUST OPT IN to project sharing, or your results won’t be included in the public project display.
Most people don’t realize that the default is to NOT SHOW in a project, believing that if they join a project, their results will automatically be anonymously displayed in the public portion of the project. You must opt-in, so be sure that little box at the right side of the Group Project Profile is checked.
The Project Preferences tab is where you grant project administrator rights.
Let’s look at the various group project preference privacy levels; Minimal, Limited and Advanced, and what they provide.
Level: Minimal Required
Minimal Required is the most limited access level. This access level permits the Group Administrator or co-administrator to access project administration tools that allow him or her to view certain results in relation to how you match other project members; however, this access level does not allow the administrator to visit your myFTDNA pages.
The following table lists the Group Administration Pages and the corresponding group member information viewable by administrators assigned the Minimal Required level:
|Group Administration Report Page*||Viewable Information|
(viewable by Group Administrators, co-administrators, and other project members in multiple locations)
|Maternal and Paternal Ancestry||
|Pending and Received Lab Results||
|Received and Unreceived Kits||
|FF Illumina OmniExpress Matrix||
|FF Illumina OmniExpress Results||
|mtDNA Results Classic||
|Y-DNA Genetic Distance||
|Y-DNA TiP Report||
|Y-DNA Results Classic||
|Y-DNA Results Colorized||
*These pages are only accessible by Group Administrators and co-administrators unless otherwise noted.
Level: Limited and Advanced
Limited is the recommended access level. This level of access permits the Group Administrator or co-administrator to visit and view certain information on your myFTDNA pages in order to assist with kit management and to better facilitate project research. Additionally, this access level includes all of the permissions granted with the Minimal Required level.
For more information on the permissions granted with this level, see the below Limited and Advanced Access table.
Advanced access permits the Group Administrator or co-administrator to visit, view, and modify certain information on your myFTDNA pages in order to assist with kit management and better facilitate project research. Additionally, this access level includes all of the permissions granted with the Limited access level.
The Advanced access level is designed to allow an individual administrator to fully manage a project member’s kit and function on their behalf. This includes ordering products and modifying information with the exceptions of the primary email address and project preferences for other Group Projects.
The following table lists your myFTDNA pages and the corresponding limitations and permissions granted to the administrator with the Limited and Advanced access levels.
Note: In addition to the personal information mentioned below, administrators for Group Projects of which you are a member and whom you have assigned Limited or Advanced access and administrators to whom your matches have granted Limited or Advanced access, will be able to view your profile, match information (e.g., Common Matches, Genetic Distances, and Shared Segments) and some Genetic Information (e.g., genetic markers and ethnicity information).
|Limited and Advanced|
|Group Member myFTDNA Page||Limited (Recommended)
|Complete Order History||Yes||Yes|
|Products and Upgrades
(Ability to purchase tests or upgrades
for group member)
|Family Finder Raw Data Download||No||Yes|
|Family Finder Matches||Yes||Yes|
|Download Family Finder Matches||Yes||Yes|
|Family Finder Linked Relationship||Yes||Yes|
|Family Finder Chromosome Browser||Yes||Yes|
|Download Family Finder Chromosome Browser||Yes||Yes|
|Family Finder myOrigins||Yes||Yes|
|Family Finder Shared Origins||Yes||Yes|
|Family Finder ancientOrigins||Yes||Yes|
|Family Finder Matrix||Yes||Yes|
|Population Finder Survey||No||Yes|
|Family Finder Advanced Matches||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA Download Matches||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA View Matches||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA Ancestral Origins||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA Matches Maps||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA Migration Maps||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA Haplogroup Origins||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA Print Certificates||No||Yes|
|mtDNA Download FASTA||No||Yes|
|mtDNA View Results||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA Advanced Matches||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA and Big Y-500|
|Y-DNA Download Matches||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA View Matches||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA Ancestral Origins||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA Haplotree & SNPs||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA SNPs Download||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA Matches Maps||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA Migration Maps||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA SNP Map||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA Haplogroup Origins||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA Print Certificates||No||Yes|
|Y-DNA Download Y-STR Results||Yes||Yes|
|Y-DNA View Y-STR Results||Yes||Yes|
|Big Y-500 Results||Yes||Yes|
|Big Y-500 Matches||Yes||Yes|
|Big Y-500 BAM File Download||No||Yes|
|Big Y-500 Download VCF||No||Yes|
|Y-DNA Advanced Matches||Yes||Yes|
|All Factoids Results||No||Yes|
|Individual Autosomal Markers||Yes||Yes|
|Contact Information||No||Yes (except primary email)|
|Change Password||No||Yes (must know the current password to change it)|
|Earliest Known Ancestors||Yes||Yes|
|Privacy & Sharing||Yes||Yes|
|Join a Project||Yes||Yes|
* An administrator granted Advanced access has the ability to modify permissions for administrators in other projects who have Limited or Minimal Required access; however, they cannot grant Advanced access to or remove Advanced access from any other administrator or co-administrator. Additionally, administrators granted Advanced access by a member can, on the member’s behalf, leave other projects with the exception of those having administrators who also have Advanced access.
Checking Your Settings – Step by Step Instructions
Sign on to your account at Family Tree DNA and select the orange “Manage Personal Information,” right under your Profile photo, or the location reserved for the photo.
Then click on the Project Preferences tab:
Click on the Edit function which shows you the current level for each administrator in a specific project, allowing you to select a new level, and then allowing you to pre-select a new level for all new future administrators of this project.
I strongly recommend that you pre-select (at least) the Limited Access level.
Then, click on Accept which shows you a summary of your new selections.
Click “Confirm” and you’re all set.
You’ll need to repeat this step to check administrator rights for all projects that you have joined.
Next, click on the privacy and sharing tab to opt in to Project Sharing. You only have to do this one time, but if you don’t – your results will NOT BE INCLUDED in any public projects.
Why is that important?
Public project displays encourage people to participate in DNA testing and join projects, especially Y and mitochondrial. If they see several lines tested, they are much more likely to purchase a test to see if they match a line they think might be theirs. Projects serve as advertising which helps all genealogists.
So please, opt in!
If you’re a Family Tree DNA project administrator, you’ll need to do the following:
- Review your Member Information List for members who have the minimal setting AND those who are not publicly sharing their DNA results.
In my Estes project of 327 individuals, 32 converted with Minimal access, including my immediate family members whose kits I manage. I don’t know if this 10% number holds true across all projects, but that’s a nontrivial number of people whose results you can’t access, and who you can’t help.
You’ll need to do the following:
- Educate your members about why you need either Limited or Full Access as well as why they want to consider allowing their results to be publicly displayed.
- If as an administrator, you’ve elected to prevent your project from publicly displaying, please consider making your project public. Family Tree DNA does not display the results of any individual in a project who does not opt-in to having their results shown publicly – so you don’t have to worry about that.
- Using the administrator’s Bulk Email function, send a project e-mail with instructions for how to check and select new Project Preference administrator settings as well as where to find the Project Sharing opt-in. (Feel free to link to this article.)
- Follow-up by sending individual e-mails to members who don’t change their settings.
- If you have a number of people in your project who are not grouped, you can group people with “Minimal” access into one group, and send a group e-mail to only them. I think that would be easier than e-mailing everyone individually, but as a project administrator, I’m committed to doing whatever needs to be done to preserve the integrity of my projects.
- If you run into problems and need help, you can call Family Tree DNA at 713-868-1438 M-F 9-5 CST and select the customer support option or initiate a support request by clicking on help at the very bottom of every page.
- If you’re a project administrator and run into problems, don’t forget that Family Tree DNA has a Group Support Department to help administrators. You can call the same number and select the option for groups or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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