Sarah Grace Goolden
With companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, at-home DNA Tests are becoming increasingly popular. They are marvels of modern technology. On Christmas, mom and dad give you a kit to spit into, ship off and then later receive a comprehensive list of your family heritage and health concerns. It is truly amazing how efficient and affordable DNA testing has become. However, before you buy one for grandma this year, there are a couple things to consider.
In no way am I telling anyone to be a crazy conspiracy theorist that puts aluminum foil over their head. However, it is healthy to ask questions and not put your faith blindly in the government or big corporations. Maybe sharing saliva does not seem like a big deal, right? After all, people hack their lungs up and spit on the sidewalk all the time. No one is going through the trash looking used straws. Normal people on the street are not going to be interested in your saliva sample. Honestly, they will probably be grossed out by it. Insurance companies and law enforcement are the ones you have to worry about.
No, your information is not being shipped off automatically to your insurance provider, but that does not mean you are necessarily in the clear. There are several instances in which that sample may be used against you.
Firstly, databases can be hacked. MyHeritage experienced a data breach which resulted in 92 million accounts being found on a private server. The actual DNA results were not hacked, but that is a real possibility in the future and it is unnerving to think about such sensitive information being stolen.
FamilyTreeDNA was in hot water earlier this year, after admitting that they disclosed DNA data with the FBI without notifying users. The right to privacy is essential when dealing with such sensitive information. I believe this company should delete all of their stored data after hiding such a massive breach of trust. It is bait and switch; no company should be able to profit after presenting themselves as one thing, then secretly going against what they stand for.
Some, however, did not mind. The FBI was combing through information in order to solve rape and murder cases. I think we can all agree a world with more rapists and murderers in jail is a good thing. However, most of these kits come with the option of sharing your information. It is a personal decision whether or not you would like to be a part of this search. If that right is stripped from us in the name of helping police enforcement, where does it end?
You might be thinking you are safe because you have never used one of these kits, but unfortunately, that is not entirely true. The Golden State Killer, a man who killed 12 people and raped 45 women in California, was caught last year with the help of a genealogy testing company. The crimes took place between 1976 and 1986, but just recently was the now 72-year-old discovered. It was not because he himself gave up his DNA, but rather a distant relative did. The genetic similarities were enough to pin Joseph James DeAngelo. I am not saying you should not use at-home DNA tests because they help catch criminals, but it is scary how much of your information is already available without your consent.
Currently, the only piece of legislation in place protecting your information when consenting to these kits is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. I do not believe GINA is fleshed-out enough. Take-home DNA tests are a relatively new phenomena. There needs to be more legal protection and clear, documented rules for these companies to adhere to for the safety of the public. This recreational, DIY kind of DNA testing will likely continue to be popular and warrant more regulations. Until then, I would argue a couple of unsolved crimes are not worth risking the privacy of my own genetic information.
On the other side, there are a plethora of amazing things that come from DNA testing. The most popular reason is to get a look into the past, perhaps discovering things about your family’s history you never knew. It can link you to living relatives. Tests that revolve around your health can help with family planning and early treatment options. However, these results are not always accurate, and, especially healthwise, can unnecessarily scare you.
For me, the negatives vastly outweigh any kind of satisfaction or knowledge DNA testing would bring me.