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At-Home DNA Testing, Placed Under A Microscope

This illustration picture shows a saliva collection kit for DNA testing displayed in Washington DC.
This illustration picture shows a saliva collection kit for DNA testing displayed in Washington DC.

A surprisingly common gift during the holidays is an at-home DNA test. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has exploded in popularity in recent years. Maybe that’s not surprising, given that in 2014, genealogy was the second-most popular hobby in the United States.

The amount of information these tests can tell you is growing as well, with many companies now bundling ancestry and health information in their kits.

But the more information these companies can provide means the more information they can collect. What they do with your information is not always clear. DNA tests confirmed the identity of California’s Golden State Killer.

But The Los Angeles Times recently broke a story that called the private policies of these companies and their work with police in the case of the Golden State Killer into question.

But the DNA-matching effort that caught one of America’s most notorious serial killers was more extensive than previously disclosed and involved covert searches of private DNA housed by two for-profit companies despite privacy policies, according to interviews and court discovery records accessed by The Times.

The revelations are likely to heighten debate about genetic privacy and the self-policing models of testing companies, as well as law enforcement access.

The original version of events omitted not only the involvement of private databases, but also the access to sensitive information the companies had told users law enforcement could see only if “required” or presented with a “lawful request.”

Can you protect your data and privacy with home genetic tests, or should you opt out entirely? And how do you interpret the results of a DNA test as it relates to your ancestry and health?

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5

James Morrison