Should I do AncestryDNA?
April 12, 2017 4:40 PM   Subscribe

I ordered my kit, but now I'm getting cold feet about sending my DNA out into the ether forever. Is this a good idea? What are the risks? I feel that the likelihood of misuse is low, but I still feel kind of vulnerable. I appreciate your insights.
posted by delight to Technology (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure exactly how the results are presented but some relatives of mine both used it and found out they were half siblings instead of step siblings, which wasn't a complete shocker, but was unexpected. So perhaps there could be family drama.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have used it. My wife used it. It was interesting and nothing totally unexpected was found. I do not see how it could be used against you regardless of the outcome. But you never know these days. But we had no qualms about it.
posted by JayRwv at 5:20 PM on April 12, 2017

Just to clarify, I'm not concerned about unsettling revelations regarding relatives, more just the fact that my genetic material will be sitting in a lab for an indefinite period of time and I will have little control over its fate or how it is used down the line.
posted by delight at 5:23 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, I haven't done any non-medically-necessary DNA analysis or testing for similar reasons, and I don't consider myself especially paranoid. I'm very nervous about how this info could be used against me in the future, and the interesting things I might find out aren't worth the risk to me.
posted by potrzebie at 5:30 PM on April 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

Just use an alias to identify yourself. When you get your results you will start seeing lists of matches. Most do not use their real names. I did see a recent match which did use a full name, which was great because I instantly knew how this particular person matched me. Not every full name is like that of course; I grew up knowing this guy's father, grandparents, aunt, and uncle.

No one in the public user base has access to your raw data.

Also use an alias for uploading to sites like Gedmatch.
posted by jgirl at 6:00 PM on April 12, 2017

The risk is that your medical history etc can be used against you and that probably will be a thing in the future but I don't know if it will in our lifetimes as it's just not that useful yet and the courts are really, really opposed to it now. As far as your genetic material sitting in a lab somewhere, you spread genetic material everywhere you go. I could steal your toothbrush and get more than they'll have in that lab. Also there really isn't anything they CAN do with a cheek swab other than sequence it. They're not going to clone you or create stem cells or anything if that's what you're worried about.
posted by fshgrl at 7:12 PM on April 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

HR1313 is making its way through the legislative process right now.

It will drastically reduce protections currently in effect under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

Employers would be able to demand your personal genetic information — unless you pay a 30% surcharge.

Many people have already found themselves mysteriously downsized after being diagnosed with cancer. By what arcane algorithm might you be "re-accommodated" at your job if your DNA reveals a risk of any kind?

From the Vox article:

"Employers aren't supposed to use sensitive information to discriminate,” Bagley said, “but the whole reason that statutes like the ADA and GINA keep that information from employers is because there's a risk that they may use it anyhow.” In a worst-case scenario, for example, they could drop an employee who is at a high risk of a costly genetic disorder.

Already, your credit score includes who you are "friends" with on Facebook. Your cell phone is tracked as you browse the supermarket aisles. Whatever data there exists about you, will be scraped and reaped and sold.

Definitely use an alias, and use a prepaid credit card purchased in cash.
posted by metaseeker at 10:24 PM on April 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Already, your credit score includes who you are "friends" with on Facebook

I recognize that Ask MeFi isn't a discussion forum, but I don't see any evidence that this is true, at least in the US.
posted by griseus at 11:26 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

At what point would you not want your DNA stored at If they sold out to Facebook? If they sold out to Google? I've recently seen a competition on a travel website where you can win a trip by submitting a DNA sample. Gives me the heebie-jeebies. Why do they want it?
posted by superfish at 11:47 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work for a genetics clinic for a hospital (running the office), so I get this question about once every 2-3 weeks.

I usually strongly caution people about 23andMe and their ilk. They are definitely looking at creating a DNA database that, one day, will be a repository of your most personal information. And you're PAYING THEM to have this info. Could it be sold (as above in superfish's reply) or hacked? I won't even get into the part where they try to tell you how susceptible you are to certain diseases/conditions.

As far as Ancestry, their analysis isn't quite so in-depth as above, but regardless, you are PAYING SOMEONE ELSE to have the most unique identifiers of you IN PERPETUITY. Mull that over...
posted by kuanes at 4:35 AM on April 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Maybe I'm just cynical, but I kind of think that if, down the road, insurers/employers have the legal and technological ability to discriminate based on genetic information, they'll be able to, one way or the other, make sure that they have everyone's genetic info on file, on a voluntary-but-not-really-voluntary basis. For example, as a precondition for employment or as a part of an "optional" wellness program that has such heavy penalties for non-participation that it's no longer really optional.

I still wouldn't do it myself because I wouldn't want to give up this information simply for entertainment purposes, but, I think if this goes bad, it goes bad regardless of whether you choose to do this kind of testing.
posted by eeek at 7:00 AM on April 13, 2017

I think it would make sense to research the exact kind of genetic analyses AncestryDNA does, and how that information might be applied to other areas. Then you can figure out if you're comfortable with the potential consequences.

Regarding the medical aspect: I don't think anyone is doing full-genome sequencing on a regular basis, yet, so it's possible the AncestryDNA results might not have much medical value because they're not looking specifically for medically-relevant genes. Though there's a risk they might save samples for later analysis, so that might be something you'll want to clarify.

The thing I'd be most concerned about is how the police might use the data; you could become a suspect in a crime you didn't commit:
...familial DNA searches can generate more noise than signal. “Anyone who knows the science understands that there’s a high rate of false positives,” says Erin Murphy, a New York University law professor and the author of Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA. The searches, after all, look for DNA profiles that are similar to the perpetrator’s but by no means identical, a scattershot approach that yields many fruitless leads... [emphasis mine]
Already, your credit score includes who you are "friends" with on Facebook
I recognize that Ask MeFi isn't a discussion forum, but I don't see any evidence that this is true, at least in the US.
IIRC, the proposed Chinese Social Credit System may include such information.

posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:25 AM on April 13, 2017

I work for the company that developed and designed the technology 23andMe functions on. Yes, your information might get used in a database, but there are numerous regulations around tracing that information back to an identifiable individual, and numerous regulations around protecting said individual.

The odds of this information being used against you are low to none, but yes, the information gleaned from your DNA will be recorded in some form not accessible to you.
posted by Everydayville at 11:37 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

On Facebook and credit scores, and the request to "cite your source":
  • I don't see any evidence that it's NOT true
  • I don't see any evidence of solid legal protection against it
  • If they did incorporate it into a propriety algorithm, what evidence would you expect to be available? A front-page ad? Conference proceedings? Word of mouth (what I have)?
  • a quick search shows that Facebook secured a patent in 2012 to do exactly this: When an individual applies for a loan, the lender examines the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual through authorized nodes. If the average credit rating of these members is at least a minimum credit score, the lender continues to process the loan application. Otherwise, the loan application is rejected.
Perhaps they could, but choose not to? Have you known a corporation to leave even a penny on the table?

I apologize that this might be off-topic or back-and-forth-y, but in a spirit of public service, can't let that challenge go unanswered. Protect your personal information, everyone, and read Bruce Schneier's Data and Goliath!
posted by metaseeker at 2:13 PM on April 13, 2017

Perhaps they could, but choose not to? Have you known a corporation to leave even a penny on the table?

Among your bullet points, I didn't see any evidence that using social network would improve the accuracy a credit score; so it's not apparent they would be leaving that penny on the table.
posted by benbenson at 2:43 PM on April 13, 2017

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