DNA Test Kits: Is Your Privacy at Risk?

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

dna risk safety security testing

Late last year, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York called for the Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize DNA testing companies, claiming they could sell your DNA, provide it to law enforcement for criminal investigations, and use it in other ways you’re not aware of.

What the big companies have to say

Testing companies beg to differ. “We feel the only person that should have your DNA is you,” says Bennett Greenspan, president of Family Tree DNA, in a press release. “We don’t believe it should be sold, traded or bartered.”

Both AncestryDNA and 23andMe sell anonymous DNA data to medical researchers if customers agree to participate. Catherine Ball, chief scientific officer at AncestryDNA, said in July, “We do not own or assert any ownership over your genetics.” Rather, customers grant AncestryDNA a license to use their DNA to provide the service they’re purchasing. She added that the company uses DNA only in ways customers have consented to.

“We do not sell individual customer information,” 23andMe corporate counsel Kate Black told NBC News, “nor do we include any customer data in our research program without an individual’s voluntary and informed consent.”

DNA and law enforcement

Though companies may release information on members in response to search warrants, law enforcement collects its own DNA samples to establish a chain of custody (legal proof that a sample came from a specific person). In 2016, Ancestry provided information in response to eight of nine valid search warrants—but none were related to genetic information. 23andMe has received five requests from law enforcement to date, but has released no information.

The bottom line

No company that stores information about you, however, can guarantee its security. Any person considering a test should read privacy policies and terms of service, and weigh any risks against the potential genealogical gain.

dna risk safety security testing

More Great DNA Resources:

3 Next Steps for Your DNA Test Results

Applying DNA Test Results to Your Research

Six Things to Do When Your DNA Match Doesn’t Have a Tree