DNA kits that we may reluctantly use
January 2, 2018 5:50 AM   Subscribe

My mother gave each of my wife and me DNA testing kits that we don’t want but may ultimately have to use to humor her. Can you address our privacy and other concerns?

If there are two people who would less enjoy recreational DNA testing, I’d be surprised. We are both on the vigilant end of the spectrum for data privacy (esp. when dealing with health matters), have little interest in, again, recreation health screening, and I, for one, have an honestly pathological willful disinterest in genealogy and family entanglements. I actively do not want to find additional family members, or, heaven forfend, by found be them.

And yet my mother has given us each one of those damn DNA kits, which seems worse than 23 and Me, give the genealogical overlay. But given the money she spent on the kits, we may be pressured into doing them.

If you’ve done the DNA kit, can you tell me the steps one can take to anonymize the process? I assume you don’t need a mailing address(dealbreaker). We will create single-use email addresses without identifying information and use fake names when setting up the accounts. Is it possible to opt out entirely from finding and being found by relatives?

Truly, the thought of this makes my skin crawl, so I’d like to ensure that literally there is no record of having done it. If that’s not possible, we’ll have to give them back to her.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Technology (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is it spit collection? How about do all that and/or send the tube back with nothing in it or just water or corn oil or whatever? I’m sure there is a standard response they send when they can’t read the sample or it’s otherwise corrupted.
posted by whitewall at 5:59 AM on January 2, 2018

This FAQ seems as if it will answer all of the questions you've posted. It sounds as if this was a pretty tone-deaf gift, considering your views. Just don't do it, for your own peace of mind. Don't let a gift given without consideration to you make you feel so uncomfortable. Your mother can return the gifts within a month for most of her money back. Or suggest that she do the DNA thing herself, and let you know what she finds.
posted by the webmistress at 6:12 AM on January 2, 2018 [23 favorites]

Do you have a dog? Try sending in some dog or cat saliva and see what they send you back!

At a minimum you'll get an error message, and at least the gift-giver can feel like you tried to participate.
posted by mccxxiii at 6:13 AM on January 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Give them to a friend who's interested in that sort of thing (there's no tie to your mom's account or anything.). When your mom asks, oh, you set them down somewhere and can't find them! You're sure they're around somewhere. What a shame.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:22 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can you sell them or give them away? If so, do that. In exchange, maybe you can make her happy with some other project related to family history, but something that doesn't scare you. Help to collect and organize family photos, for example.
posted by pracowity at 6:24 AM on January 2, 2018

Rather than thwarting the results with dog saliva, how will she know if you just throw it in the trash? Is she going to physically watch you do it? Or does she get some kind of alert when the system finds a match to her?

Can you explain why you don't want to do it and offer to give your kits to your wife's parents (if they are amenable)? Or just do it without her knowing? Genealogically, wouldn't this be as good for tracing your wife's ancestry as having your wife's DNA? (Unless there are paternity questions but that's probably another AskMe.)
posted by AFABulous at 6:35 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My mother will simply ask about the results; she’s not particularly mindful of privacy concerns, etc. She just thinks this is neat.

There’s no need to throw away the tests; I’ll just give them back to her for her to return or regift if we can’t do them on our very restrictive terms.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:46 AM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just give them back. "Thanks Mom, but there is no way I'm doing this."

Trying to come up with some kind of ruse or fib to avoid being direct with your mom is just going to bite you in the end, and will be way more awkward than just being straightforward.
posted by gyusan at 6:49 AM on January 2, 2018 [31 favorites]

I did the test.

You do not have to do it under your own name. Make one up or something. They have it so you can buy and send in tests for other people -just make up a name.

But if you would rather not that is fine too.

If your mom is that curious have her do it herself and if your father is available have him do it, presto, she has all the info she needs. That is what we are going to do for our kids (Ralph will get the test soon, it will be one of his birthday gifts, he knows about it.)

One thing you can tell her is that this has the potential to disrupt your life or at the very least change who you think you are-which can be positive or negative.. I found out I was part Jewish-a fairly substantial chunk -and this would have been the only way I ever could have found out. I am happy about it but it does really upend family history.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:14 AM on January 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Oh, and yes, you absolutely can opt out of being found by people. In a way that sucks for me because there is stuff I would like to find out but I also have a lot of local relations and none of them have reached out to me (my stuff is NOT private but I have different motivations than you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:16 AM on January 2, 2018

As someone who is super into genealogy, I'd say just don't do it. If only because you could come up as an important DNA clue for someone who is really trying to complete a family tree with a twist (i.e. adoption or somesuch) and it's so annoying when you get a match and... they're totally anonymous and have no plans to ever respond. Particularly on Ancestry because that sort of seems like a huge part of the point.

Unless you can utterly hide yourself from others (I am certain you can use a fake name, etc), then I say go for it. It's kind of fun to spit in a tube and then be told you're 34% southern european or something.
posted by jdl at 7:44 AM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I came across a Suze Orman quotation yesterday that might fit here, too: "Say no out of love rather than yes out of fear." She was writing about financial decisions involving friends and family, but given that your privacy is your wealth, well.
posted by ejvalentine at 7:57 AM on January 2, 2018 [21 favorites]

Are you sure there's no form of identifying serial number/id/ bar/QR code on any of the package that's returned? Who owns the Copyright of the DNA that's returned, I wonder?
posted by Dub at 7:57 AM on January 2, 2018

I vote to give them back. It will be a little awkward, but your concerns are legitimate, and you can’t undo it once it’s done. I actually am a little curious about it, but I wouldn’t get my DNA recreationally tested right now, given the political climate in the US and the possibility that Congress will mess with protections against discrimination. I don’t think it’s a big risk, but it’s a risk, and the payoff doesn’t seem worth it. Just explain to your mom that you appreciate the gift, but you have some hangups about privacy, and you don’t feel comfortable having genetic testing done outside a medical context.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:11 AM on January 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would advise you to just say thank you and then give these kits away or literally throw them in the garbage. They have the chance to totally upend your entire life. If she asks you about whether or not you've used to them you can say oh we haven't gotten around to it yet. Repeat that answer literally forever.

I'm not sure why you want to give the tests back to her, that seems a little bit aggressive. Would you do it with any gift that you didn't like or want? I would just quietly accept it politely and move on. People give me gifts that I don't like sometimes, and I would not ever think of giving the gift back to them.

The purpose of a gift is not literally a transaction of an item from person A to person B, it is the transfer of emotion and and all kinds of other intangible stuff. Maybe in this particular case one of the things that's being transferred or uncovered with this gift is the idea of control and knowledge within, among, and about your family. But I would actually really examine my desire to return the gift to her directly. What do you hope to accomplish with that?
posted by sockermom at 8:12 AM on January 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think sockermom has it. Don't give it back, and don't get into all the reasons why you won't do it. Just reiterate that you haven't gotten around to it yet, and time will pass, and soon there will be something else for your mother to ask about.

And when you write the thank-you note, do recognize the spirit of the gift and acknowledge that. "Thank you for the kit--it is so interesting what technology can show us nowadays family history blah blah!" Something like that would do the trick.

And for what it's worth, I personally would also hate this gift A LOT, but I would also want to find something positive in the intentions behind it. Your mom is probably just trying to find closeness, or express care, or any of the other intangibles sockermom mentioned above. Thank her for those intangibles and be vague about the rest.
posted by witchen at 8:22 AM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

If your mom is like my mom, she got these not just for you guys but also for herself & maybe other members of the family. She'll likely want to add your results to her family network. The idea of doing this anonymously to appease her will likely not give her the results she wanted anyway. I would kindly return them so she could recoup the money or regift them.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 8:24 AM on January 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

I think that the question of deflecting vs. giving it back is going to depend a lot on your relationship with your mother. For me, deflecting would be really unhealthy, passive-aggressive behavior, and I need to explain why I am choosing to do things rather than pretending to “forget” so I can avoid my parents’ judgement and lack of respect for my perspective and choices. Your mileage may definitely vary.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:40 AM on January 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

This isn't the kind of gift you can discard and forget about, as the whole point of it is that she will want to discuss your results, ask you about your findings, participation, etc.

I know this isn't an answer to the question you asked, but I agree with the folks who think the best and kindest thing you can do would be to give the kits back to her and let her know you're just not comfortable with anyone having your DNA information. I think it will be a moment's discomfort, vs the indefinitely long, drawn-out weirdness that will result if you accept the gift but then refuse to participate in the process.

Of course, you know your mother better than we do, so if that doesn't sound right, you could always send the vials back empty, get the error message, and truthfully tell her that they weren't able to tell you anything useful.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:52 AM on January 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

You can do it but choose not to share your results with anyone, and/or choose not to add them to their library of results.

Of course I have no idea how carefully they enforce preferences, but the options are there.
posted by scrute at 9:55 AM on January 2, 2018

I would really be hurt if I found out someone had sent in dog saliva, or whatever, to screw up the test. Especially if I had bought two second tests because the first ones didn't work.... and, it would be socks and underpants next Christmas for you.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:15 AM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Absolutely stick to your guns and don’t do it. Your DNA is far more distinctly and specifically identifying than your name or email address - I mean, if your first degree relatives have their data entered, the statistically significant similarities to your own data will identify your sample as you no matter what email address you write on the form.

I am also extraordinarily skeptical of the test provider’s (any of them - I distrust all of these services equally) assurances of privacy/not adding your data to their database. I work in healthcare research, and you can de-identify a sample as much as you want but genetic information is inherently impossible to perfectly de-identify. Just because they don’t link it to your name doesn’t mean they aren’t able to use the data.

Don’t hand over your spit. Tell mom thanks but no thanks, and suggest another activity to bond over together to take the sting out of the rejection, and to show her that you do value the idea of spending time learning about each other.
posted by amelioration at 10:27 AM on January 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm uncomfortable with you doing this test anonymously. It won't stay anonymous. Be direct with your mother, return the kits, and be done with it. You're an adult. You get to say about really large, consequential things like this.

Your mother wouldn't try to sneak your DNA off of something, would she?
posted by Capri at 11:01 AM on January 2, 2018

But given the money she spent on the kits

If it helps, please know that the kits are discounted (anywhere from 20% to 50% off the usual $99) throughout the year -- I received one in early November, as part of a BOGO promotion.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2018

If you'd like to humor your mom and you do happen to have a dog, could you suggest exchanging the ancestry test for a Wisdom Panel test to look at dog breeds instead? That one should cancel out your privacy concerns and may still scratch that itch or seem similar enough that it's the "same" gift.

But yeah, if discussing it and returning it is an option - I'd do that. People are well-intentioned but clueless all the time, and exchanging it for something you will be able to enjoy and discuss would be a fantastic outcome.
posted by mosst at 11:28 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. For the avoidance of doubt, any “compulsion” to do the tests was simply out of filial politesse, and we are happy to tell her we won’t use them. I’m much more squeamish about giving databases my precious bodily fluids than I am about telling my mother I don’t want her Christmas gifts.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:43 AM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think just returning the tests, if Mom is able to accept them without being too upset, is your best option. Obfuscations and vague "well we didn't get around to it" in the case of a gift like this, is a little different than, say, if she'd given you, say, a Keurig or something. She wants active participation from this gift, presumably wants to know the results, something she could not expect from some object that could be stuffed into a closet and brought out only when she visits.

Just return them with a smile and a polite explanation. Or no explanation. But that's easier to understand than evasions and silence when the topic of "have you done the tests yet" comes up.
posted by Crystal Fox at 12:29 PM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

If she’s having your (presumably full blood) siblings do them too, your results would likely be very similar to theirs. If you want to humor her interest, say you and your spouse are uneasy about sending in your own nucleotides, but are happy to geek out about sibling’s results when they come in.
posted by Drosera at 12:37 PM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I gave my family member one of these kits, without ever thinking of how it might be received negatively. They were kind of nervous and went ahead and decided to use a fake name and that they would never open or look at some of the results. Having had a few years go by, I wish that they'd actually just let me know that it was freaking them out, that they'd assured me they so appreciated it and could see why it was exciting, and that I was so correct that they really love geneaology, but this really just wasn't feeling right to them and that they would like to present the following options. For example, (1) return the gift and apply the money to an annual subscription to genealogy site, (2) return the gift and put the money into another cool genealogy thing, (3) ask me if I would like to do it and spend time with them to go over it and share that excitement, (4) some other option.

I think I was just so excited at tapping into this family member's passions and it never occurred to me that there were all these rabbit holes it could pose. But how it was turned down would really matter to me and saying how much you adored me and the idea, but why it wasn't feeling right, but let's do this other cool family exploration thing and share...that was really what my gift was about.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:41 PM on January 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

(Just a note to the respondents talking of dog saliva or of the mother getting DNA off an envelope or something: these tests require a significant amount of saliva in the tube. It took me like 10 minutes to spit enough to fill it to the line.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:17 PM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

While I absolutely agree with other commenters here that you shouldn’t take the tests if you have privacy (or any other) objections, I just wanted to mention for anyone searching this thread later that health screening/analysis is not a service DNA currently offers. They do give you your raw genetic data to upload elsewhere that can, though.

Return, give away, or sell the tests unless she has already preregistered them.
posted by asciident at 8:24 PM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you are interested in donating these tests, you might contact the admins of adoptee groups to find people who would love to get these. Adoptees, and especially transracial/international adoptees or POC adoptees, may not be able to afford or access these tests, but they are extremely useful in finding out about their backgrounds or even putting together the pieces of their family of origin. The loss of this connection is a lifelong trauma for adoptees, and these tests help when there is no paper trail left. As the child of an adoptee, I know what this can mean to someone.

If you would like help in finding a group for donation, memail me.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:53 AM on January 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

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