Four companies now have DNA information on more than 26 million people.
That’s roughly the combined population of New York State (nearly 20 million), Connecticut (3.5 million) and Chicago (2.7 million).
According to MIT Technology Review , the number of people who submitted their most personal genetic details to companies including 23andme and Ancestry.com doubled in 2018. At that rate, 100 million people will have provided information about their DNA make-up to private companies by the end of 2020.
Testing kits like AncestryDNA can be purchased on Amazon.com for $69 and are simple to use. Customers simply rub a cotton swab inside their mouth, seal it in a package included in the kit, mail it to a lab, and wait up to a month to find out their ethnic makeup.
While many people enjoy learning about their heritage, critics argue such that DNA information might allow insurance companies to discriminate against people predisposed to certain ailments.
Insurance industry exec Catherine Theroux told NPR last year that those seeking coverage generally must disclose any genetic testing they’ve undergone, even if it was through a recreational ancestry testing company.
DNA testing kits could also be used to implicate suspects in crimes. In 2018, alleged “Golden State Killer” Jesse James DeAngelo was arrested in connection to up to a dozen murders that occurred in the 1970s and ’80s. Prosecutors claimed a relative’s online genealogical data led them to DeAngelo.
Companies that sell recreational DNA kits typically promise privacy to their customers and both 23andMe and Ancestry.com have said they they only work with law enforcement if instructed to do so by the courts.
23andMe, which is based in California, and Ancestry.com, which operates out of Utah, dominate the DNA testing commercial market. MyHeritage and Gene by Gene are also competitive in the genetics industry.
University of California professor Elizabeth Joh tweeted last week that DNA testing kits should be approached with caution.
“First rule of data: once you hand it over, you lose control of it. You have no idea how the terms of service will change for your recreational’ DNA sample,” she wrote.
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