The Dark Side of DNA Testing | Genealogy, Ancestry and My Heritage | America Uncovered

You want to learn about your family heritage. And what better way than DNA testing? Except… there could be a downside. Like who gets access to your DNA. Welcome to America Uncovered. I’m Chris Chappell. Remember to subscribe and click the bell icon, so you can be notified next time we upload
a video. Millions of people are curious about their
ancestry. They want to learn a little bit more about
their family history. And what better way to do that, than sending
a sample of your DNA to some big company with friendly videos! “Did you know you can learn a whole lot
more about what’s in your genes by comparing
your results to others?” Yeah, just spit into a tube. Cheers! Then send it off to a lab somewhere, and get
your results back in 6 to 8 weeks. That video is from 23andMe. It’s one of the two biggest genealogy companies
in the US. The other big one is Ancestry. “Our expansive record collections, and growing
network of family trees, have helped our members make billions of meaningful
connections.” Both of them are also frequent sponsors of
popular YouTube channels. So 23andMe, Ancestry, and several others— they’ve have acquired a huge collection
of human DNA.An estimated 7 million Americans have taken a DNA test. And worldwide, it’s more than 26 million. Even the Grinch took a DNA test in this delightful
example of product placement.Now we finally knows what race the Grinch was meant to be. Just kidding. You do not what to know what race Dr. Seuss meant for the Grinch to be. It will destroy your childhood. 23andMe was careful to stick to less controversial
genetics. “It says here loving salty snacks is in
my DNA. True! Hahaha.” I mean, if it weren’t for 23andMe, how could the Grinch possibly know he loves
salty snacks? But there are genuinely good things that that have come out of consumer-based
DNA tests. For some people, the results can be a great
boost to their ego. “Listen up! I’m a gene that impacts your muscle composition.” Do you even have ACTN3, bro? For others, they’ve credited DNA companies with helping them diagnose medical conditions. The tests tell you if you’re genetically
at risk for different diseases, like Alzheimer’s or breast cancer. The FDA has approved them to give you certain
medical results. But their methods are… disputed. Some of the tests may be more like parlor
tricks than medicine. Other people take DNA tests to find out more
about their family heritage. You can find long-lost relatives. But, like all good things, there’s a catch. For starters, the results can be a lot to
unpack. Here’s what happened to Eugene from Try
Guys in a video sponsored by 23andMe. “You are not 100% Korean.” “You are 19.9% Japanese.” “19.9?! My parents will be furious.” Or, imagine if your father had another child
that no one else knew about. Or, if you find out that your father is not
really your father. And, whether your results are good, or bad, or chaotic neutral, they’re made possible
because genealogy companies—like Ancestry and 23andMe— have collected a treasure trove of data from
millions of people. DNA testing really started taking off in 2017. In 2018, as many people purchased consumer
DNA kits as in all previous years combined. That’s largely because the costs have gone
down dramatically. Now, you can get a DNA testing kit for less
than a hundred dollars. And as prices drop, and these companies keep
sponsoring YouTube channels and Dr. Seuss characters,
DNA testing will only get more popular. The MIT Technology Review estimates that a total of 100 million people will have
tried a DNA home testing kit by 2021. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a gold mine of personal data. And I know a couple of guys who really love
that stuff. Now a giant corporation getting access to your personal data is already scary enough. What about…the police?It turns out, your
trusted law enforcement could be navigating the very same databases
you willingly submitted your DNA into. More and more, we’re seeing cold cases of
rape and murder getting retroactively solved with the help
of DNA database matching systems. It’s happening across the country.Maryland.Florida. Alabama.And California. The case of the Golden State Killer is the
most high-profile example of cops using a genealogy database in action. Just over a year ago, investigators identified
Joseph DeAngelo as the man they say is responsible for killing
and raping dozens of people and burglarizing over 100 homes across the
state in the 1970s and 80s. They cracked the case with the help of an
online genealogy database called GEDmatch. It’s an open-source website that hosts raw,
genetic information. The information is uploaded voluntarily by
people who are actively looking for long-lost relatives.The
lead investigator in the Golden State Killer case said he spent about seven years using open-source
genealogy-based websites to find the culprit. Eventually, DeAngelo’s distant relatives
uploaded their DNA to the database. And that’s what led authorities to DeAngelo. Although he hasn’t been convicted.Here’s
another case that was cracked using GEDmatch, where the suspect’s DNA was matched through
a relative on the site. A relative who also presumably had a terrible
mullet.Now you might say, “This is great! We’re catching criminals who evaded justice
for decades!” But… just think about it for a second. They were caught through the DNA of relatives. They never willingly gave their DNA for testing—well, except for the DNA they presumably left behind
at the crime scenes. Now you might wonder whether police need a
warrant to do this kind of stuff. Technically, they do. But at least one genealogy company—FamilyTreeDNA— is just handing over access to federal prosecutors. Over 2 million genetic profiles were exposed
in this deal. Your private genetic information may not be
so private anymore. John Verdi is the vice president policy at
the Future of Privacy Forum, a D.C.-based think tank focused on data privacy. He is deeply concerned about this. He said the deal between FamilyTreeDNA and
the FBI is “deeply flawed,” “out of line with industry best practices”
and “out of line with consumer expectations.” Most consumers expect their data to remain
private. But not every company sees it that way. The operator of GEDmatch, Curtis Rogers told The Mercury News that user profiles might
be used for non-genealogical uses, and if users are concerned about their privacy,
they should take their data down, or avoid uploading their DNA in the first
place.But it’s a little bit unfair to provide a service for one purpose, and then expect customers to understand that their data will be used for a completely
different purpose. I mean…Facebook. To be fair, recently GEDmatch updated its
website, so that before you sign on, you can through read their 8-page “Terms
of Service and Privacy Policy”. On page 5, there’s a part that says “possible
uses of Raw Data.. .include” blah blah blah So obviously, every user will read the Terms
of Service thoroughly and make an informed decision. On the other hand, I think it would be better if they just told
you up front that they’re going to share your DNA with
the police. So, are all genetic testing companies working
with law enforcement to solve crimes?Not necessarily. Some companies have come out and denied claims their databases are used to solve crimes.23andMe
and Ancestry both said they don’t work with law enforcement, unless they receive a court order.A spokeswoman
for 23andMe told the Washington Times that the company has “never turned over customer data to law
enforcement.” And a spokeswoman for Ancestry said that company
doesn’t share data with “insurance carriers, employers or third-party
marketers,” and that law enforcement only gets access
through a court ordered warrant. I wonder, though, why some law enforcement
agencies still won’t disclose exactly which database
they’re using to crack crimes.Above all, it’s disturbing to know that people can
be identified through DNA services, without having ever consented to it—because
of a relative being in the database. I mean, we all have that crazy uncle who may
or may not have committed grand larceny and caused $32,000 worth or property damage and does uncle Nick really deserve to go to
jail?! Well, that saliva you spit into a tube may
be just what authorities need to finally catch
him. And then who’s going to give you weird and slightly inappropriate Christmas gifts next
year? But seriously, there are going to be people
who say, “What’s the big deal? I don’t have anything to hide.” And that might be true. As long as we’re living in a free and democratic
society. But not every free and democratic society
stays that way forever. What if one day your country becomes more
authoritarian? China’s authoritarian regime is already
using DNA to spy on people. So having your DNA out there could come back
to bite you. And here are three companies that have acknowledged
they actively share genetic information with US law enforcement:GEDmatch,
FamilyTreeDNA, and Parabon Nanolabs.But those are just the
ones that we know of right now. Back when the Golden State Killer story first
broke, investigators didn’t say which sites they
had been working with. So who knows which companies are doing what—until
they get called out for it. It just goes to show that, like all “private”
information, even your DNA kits are not so private when
in the hands of a company that’s being irresponsible, or under pressure from law
enforcement. And if that’s news to you, you must be new
here.But look at the bright side. If it weren’t for 23andMe, how would we know the Grinch likes salty snacks? So, what do you think about DNA testing companies? Have you taken a DNA test kit yourself? Leave your comments below. And this video has been sponsored by… Just kidding. It’s not easy to get sponsorship from large
corporations… when I call out the shady behavior of large
corporations. That’s why America Uncovered relies on support
from viewers like you— who contribute through the crowdfunding website
Patreon. Visit to support
this show by joining our team and pledging a dollar
or more per episode. Once again, I’m Chris Chappell. Thanks for watching America Uncovered.


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