Opinion

Read This Before You Buy That At-Home DNA Test

Is The Rise of Consumer Genetic Testing Convenient or Controversial?

By: Olivia Frasca

DNA tests are a fun, yet controversial way to uncover family history and personal wellness stats. (Credit: zmescience.com)

Order a kit, spit in a tube, and in a few weeks you’ll have access to all sorts of information about your health and ancestry. From your own computer, your genealogical history is at your fingertips.  

23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage are popular sites that offer direct-to-consumer DNA tests at decent prices.

While Ancestry and MyHeritage will reveal one’s family history and nationality makeup, 23andMe goes the extra mile in revealing one’s health risks, genetic traits, and general wellness too.

If you are curious about your family history, distant with relatives, or wanting to start a family, these DNA kits are a simple way to discover where you come from and what diseases you are predisposed to.

But before you immediately scroll to the bottom of that license agreement to purchase yourself a kit, you may want to give it a read. After all, your DNA is the most personal information you own.

Health risk reports produced by genotyping are approved by the FDA, as advertised on the 23andMe website. Other practices such as manufacturing, processing, and storing samples meet FDA criteria as well.

According to Forbes.com, most of the companies’ private policies are common practice. 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage claim that they will not share your genetic data with third parties without your explicit consent.

If you create an account for these sites through Facebook or Google, the sites will have access to basic profile information on these platforms such as your name and email.

These companies will also share information that is necessary to carry out their services. Service providers include payment processors, laboratory partners, storage facilities, and DNA shipping, according to the Ancestry private policy.

Aggregated data may be shared for marketing purposes, according to 23andMe. This type of data can include the age range, nationality, and region of those that use the service, but does not include personal information.

So while these companies do not intend to share your genetic information with others, “it’s possible that somebody will hack into a company database that does contain your information,” NBC News reported.

Most of these DNA testing companies also carry out research projects on the side. When users purchase a kit, they are asked if they would like their biological samples to be used for future genetic research.

If you opt out of this, your DNA sample will not be used for research once you have received your genetic report, but rather stored by the company.

You may request for your biological sample to be destroyed, but this does not remove the copy of your sample, which has been replicated by these companies’ systems, according to NBC News.

Ancestry does state that they will destroy all genetic data by request. If you previously consented to research though, your data will not be removed from completed research projects.  

While these DNA kits are a fun way to uncover family history, any health concerns revealed by a kit should be discussed with a medical professional. Direct-to-consumer genetic tests are not meant to diagnose anyone, nor are they 100% reliable.

DNA testing companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage are businesses above all. They need to satisfy service providers and carry out their own research projects.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is a fascinating industry that continues to grow. With any purchase, however, there are risks and benefits to weigh.

So think twice before purchasing a test, as your DNA is one of the only things you have that no one else does.

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