Ancestry Opt-Outs are in low numbers

Ancestry introduced a new privacy policy in November 2017 that allowed customers to opt out of DNA matching. Customers who opt out receive their heritage breakdown, but do not see their DNA matches. They also are not shown on the match lists of all other customers.

Prior to this change, customers who wished to disengage would have to delete their DNA completely.

When the change was first announced, there was some concern among Ancestry users that the number of shared matches would reduce significantly if many existing customers chose to opt out. Then users noticed “missing” matches when they went to review past notes and manual lists. It didn’t help that there was also erratic behaviour of the Surname/Location Search functionality.

It’s difficult to be sure about the impact without snapshot lists of matches before and after the change. Unfortunately Ancestry does not provide the facility to download matches to spreadsheet, unlike some other companies.

In July 2017 I personally recorded details about all my DNA matches on AncestryDNA. I repeated the exercise in February 2018 and again in May 2018.

It’s just luck that one of my snaphots was before the change, but it allows me to do some analysis of the impact on my own results of people choosing to disengage from matching.

So, how many matches were in my snapshot of July 2017 that *were not* in my snapshot of February 2018?

A grand total of five matches disappeared.

I don’t know if they opted out or if they completely deleted their DNA and closed their accounts. However none of these five had reappeared by May 2018.

I wrote a separate blog post with full analysis and breakdown of my total numbers. As I gained gained 2,394 matches over the same time period, the opt-out number is insignificant. As that post also shows that over 80% of my matches were below 10 CM, statistically these low opt-outs are most likely to be low CM. I could have been really unlucky that one or two of those matches happened to be close, but I happen to know that they were all 10 CM or below.

Between February and May 2018 a further two people disappeared from my match list.

Again, they were of minor CM.

I acknowledge that these five could have been very close matches for some existing customers seeking to solve mysteries. The impact to those customers is of course highly significant. But overall, this is not a worrying factor for me in my continuing use of AncestryDNA.

Margaret created a family tree on a genealogy website in 2012. She purchased her first DNA kit in 2017. She created this website to share insights and how-to guides on DNA, genealogy, and family research.

5 thoughts on “Ancestry Opt-Outs are in low numbers”

  1. This tells you how many old matches decided to opt out after the option was provided or simply removed their DNA. It tells you nothing about how many new testers opted out when they purchased their kits post November 2017.

    For awhile it appeared Ancestry was leaving spaces for the opt out people in our match lists. Pages often did not have 50 matches. I am not sure if that is still the case. When I checked in the Spring 2018, most of my pages were 47-49 matches when I sorted by date. If space was being left, I would guesstimate about 5% of new testers were opting out. Of course the pages could have had less than 50-matches due to technical issues at Ancestry.

    • Thank you for your valuable comments. You are completely right that it doesn’t say anything about new testers, that wasn’t what I was trying to convey. I’ll leave the post a few days and re-read in light of your comment, if I’m unclear I’ll gratefully amend my wording. There is no way outside of Ancestry’s internal systems of knowing who is opting out during the joining process. I can only measure how many I lost.
      I’d also be interested in seeing with a future snapshot if I lost matches after the relatively recent publicity of law enforcement officials using DNA sites.
      I can confirm that during my snapshots there were 50 per page, and I did quick spot-check now and its the case. I do not doubt that it has varied. Its an interesting take that Ancestry was leaving space, but I don’t think the web page rendering would work like that under normal processing. However, we all notice the glitches of “name unavailable” and other issues, so that may account for it.

  2. This article was very timely for me. A match at approximately 39cMs appeared recently on my page. After looking at shared matches I was able to determine which line of my family was the possible connection. I wrote to him through Ancestry and a few days later when I was looking for further correspondence I noticed my message to him was missing. Thinking perhaps I did not complete the message and send it I went looking for the match again and it was gone from my list. Now that I have read your article I am assuming he opted out of sharing and no longer appears on my list of matches. I understand that is his choice but what I am questioning is the fact that my message has disappeared from my account. That does seem odd to me, in fact it concerns me. Am I right to be concerned?

    • Its an interesting question as to what happens to messages. The Ancestry document here states that if a match you’ve starred or attached a note to opts out, then the star or not disappears. If they opt back in, your star or not reappears. The document doesn’t refer to messages but it would make sense to me if the same principle applied. I can see your point that the message is part of *your* account, but if Ancestry are to guarantee privacy to opt-outs then they would need to “hide” their details from your messaging account.
      Personally I wouldn’t be worried, but for complete clarity you could raise a support ticket with Ancestry through their website. I find it takes a few days for someone to reply, but they will get back to you.


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