12 Jun 2018

What happens to your DNA information after an ancestry test?

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:19 pm on 12 June 2018

Many New Zealanders are sending off saliva samples to ancestry.com or 23andMe to find out about their genetic ethnicity and ancestry.

But be aware that after doing this your genetic profile can be made available to third parties.

The Google-backed "life sciences" company Calico has access to the ancestry.com database, says medical sociologist Katie Hasson.

DNA genetics illustration

Photo: 123RF

"Often [these companies] are selling your information to their research partners, which could be private companies such as pharmaceutical companies that are using it to develop drugs.

"Ancestry.com has a partnership with a subsidiary of Google called Calico which is working on longevity and life extension research. It turns out they have access to Ancestry's database."

It's time we had better regulations about who can access this information and how it can be used, Hasson says.

Police databases have much tighter restrictions than these DNA databases, and we can't yet know what will be possible in the future.

"Google already has vast amounts of personal information about people. There could be a number of ways they try to put these things together."

Katie Hasson of the Center of Genetics and Society, California

Katie Hasson of the Center of Genetics and Society, California Photo: The Center of Genetics and Society

Even when an ancestry website promises that it will protect your DNA, remember this is just a current company policy, Hasson says.

"They have the right to change that in the future. They also could be compelled legally by a judge to hand over a particular person's DNA."

"Think twice and definitely read very carefully through the very long agreements" is Hasson's advice for people interested in ancestry testing.

"Know that you should take the results that you're getting with a grain of salt and think seriously about the different ways your information could be used in the future."

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