Privacy Policy

The Open Tree of Life project provides infrastructure to help the community of people interested in evolutionary relationships to create a synthetic view of published phylogenetic information. The website of the project allows user to curate the results of phylogenetic research via our curation page. Users can also comment on current synthetic tree (see instructions on our "about" page).

What kind of user information do we keep?

Not much, and as little as possible (see the this page for an explanation of this choice).

The type of user information stored on our servers depends on what aspects of the site you are using. Briefly:

  • You do not need to have an account or any type of registeration to use our API or to browse the synthetic tree or taxonomy.
  • To maintain provenance of the scientific work involved in curating a study, we require curators to log in via GitHub (see below).
  • To leave a comment on the tree, you can either be logged in with a GitHub account, provide a name and email address (which will be publicly visible), or enter "Anonymous" in the name field. Comments are publicly visible on the tree and in our feedback repository.
We describe below what information is stored for each type of user activity below.

What information do we keep about users of our APIs?

IP addresses: The apache web server software we use writes IP addresses of incoming requests in its log files. We periodically summarize the counts of calls to different services based on these logs so that we can better understand what parts of the project are most widely used. After that summarization, we delete the log files. We do not store the IP addresses in them long term. We do not associate the IP address with any user accounts or user other user information. We do not distribute any of this IP addresses to any third-parties. The only form that this information is used or distributed is in summary statistics about the frequency of usage of our different services.

What information do we keep about non-logged in users browsing the tree?

  1. IP addresses: When you visit our site, your browser users our API. So the information described in the previous section about IP addresses applies to you.
  2. Cookies+Sessions: Our web apps (browsing the synthetic tree and taxonomy) store a single cookie with a session identifier. This cookie and session store no personal information.
  3. Google analytics: We use Google Analytics to gather some basic information about how users are navigating the site and which features are commonly used. You can "opt out" of this tracking when you first reach the website.

What information do we keep about anonymous comments on the tree?

If you want to leave a comment on the synthetic tree, you will be prompted to log into a GitHub account or to enter your name and email address. To leave anonymous feedback, enter 'Anonymous' for the name and leave the email address blank.

  1. See above: Anonymous commenters are using the site, so the previous sections apply to them.
  2. Comments on GitHub: We store the comments in a publicly visible form as an "issue" at
  3. Comments on the tree browser: Open issues will also appear to visitors of the site when they browse to the node of the tree where the issue was created.
  4. Name and email address:If you enter your name and an email address when creating a comment, the name will appear with a link your email address as the "Author" of the comment.

What information do we keep about logged-in users?

  1. See above: The information in "What information do we keep about non-logged in users browsing the tree?" applies to logged-in users
  2. GitHub account info: We use GitHub for authentication for data contributors. This means that the Open Tree of Life project does not store any personal information about its users. Our web application can only obtain your name and email address if it is publicly visible in your GitHub profile. If you choose not to make that information public, then our application can only tell what your GitHub username is (and the fact that you have successfully authenticated with GitHub using that username).
    We have entered into a Data Protection Agreement with GitHub regarding issues of privacy and personal data. See GitHub's privacy policy for their approach to protecting and managing users' personal data.

What information do we keep about study curators?

The study curation app handle much more data than the commenting feature. We prefer to attribute this work to the curators so that they get credit and other members of the community can ask questions about the curated data. If you want to edit studies and trees, the curation tool will require a log in via a GitHub account. If your email address has not been made public in your GitHub user profile, it will not appear in our study data, but it's possible that git operations using other tools will reveal your email address.

  1. See above: The information in "What information do we keep about logged-in users?" applies to curators
  2. GitHub id, your name: When you help with curation, your GitHub username is used as the author of a git commit so that you get credit for the curation activity. The username (and your real name if that information is public on your GitHub profile) is publicly visible at in the git repository storing the curated information. Those repositories include information on:
  3. your email address: If you have made your email address publicly visible in your GitHub profile, then that address will occur in the git commit metadata when you save a study. If your email address is not public, then "ANONYMOUS" will be used in the git commit metadata in place of your email.

What information do we keep about commenters who are logged-in via GitHub?

  1. See above: The information in "What information do we keep about logged-in users?" applies to curators
  2. Comment data:The same information that is described in "What information do we keep about anonymous comments on the tree?" is associated with the logged-in commenters, except that the comment will appear as an issue that you created on GitHub. Your name and a link to your GitHub profile will appear in the author field. You can use the GitHub account settings to control whether you get email about responses to your comment.

Who can you talk to about data privacy?

If you have questions about how we handle personal data, or if you'd like your personal information to be removed, please send a message to