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Consumer DNA Testing Kits Are a Privacy Risk Now and In The Future

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From the RSA Conference
Where the World talks Security

Consumer DNA Testing Kits Are a Privacy Risk Now and In The Future
Posted on Jan 22, 2020 by Wendy Zamora

 

Consumer DNA testing kits are a well-intentioned but ultimately dangerous booby trap into which millions have already fallen, the repercussions of which are not yet fully realized today. If the point of testing your DNA is to understand your personal past, we’d all be wise to remember other lessons history has taught us and keep some information under the cap. A seemingly innocuous decision could have lasting ramifications on data privacy, security, employment, insurance and health—plus invite legal woes, deep state surveillance and possible threats to the very freedom we all take for granted today.

But let’s start with the accuracy of the tests themselves.

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https://www.rsaconference.com/industry-topics/blog/consumer-dna-testing-kits-are-a-privacy-risk-now-and-in-the-future

 

 

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I Took 9 Different Commercial DNA Tests and Got 6 Different Results

https://www.livescience.com/63997-dna-ancestry-test-results-explained.html

Should you get your DNA tested?

None of this means an ancestry kit from 23andMe or AncestryDNA or Nat Geo is worthless, Stoneking and Platt agreed.

"I view these things as more for entertainment than anything else," Stoneking said.

The real science of population genetics, he explained, is used to figure out how large groups of people moved and mixed over time. And it's good for that purpose. But figuring out whether 3 to 13 percent of my ancestors came from the Iberian Peninsula or Italy isn't part of that project.

Platt said that he had gotten himself commercially tested, and that while he hadn't found anything surprising, it's always possible for someone to learn something new and interesting — particularly if they're of non-Jewish European ancestry and vague on the details. A white non-Jew might learn something specific and interesting about their background, because their ancestors likely come from highly isolated reference populations on which the companies have lots of data. But folks from other places have lower odds, simply because the data from other places is more limited, fuzzy, and difficult to interpret.

When I contacted the companies and asked them to comment on this story and to address the question of why my results may have differed — even when the test was performed by the same company — both Ancestry and 23andMe responded.

Here's what Ancestry said:

"We're confident in the science and the results that we give to customers. The consumer genomics industry is in its early stages but is growing fast and we tell customers throughout the experience that their results are as accurate as possible for where the science is today, and that it may evolve over time as the resolution of DNA estimates improve. We will always work to harness evolutions in science to enhance our customers' experience. For example, recent developments in DNA science allowed us to develop a new algorithm that determines customers' ethnic breakdown with a higher degree of precision."

And here's the comment from 23andMe, which the representative requested Live Science attribute to Robin Smith, a Ph.D. who holds the title of group project manager at the company:

"Our ancestry reports are a living analysis and are ever-evolving, and as our database grows we will be able to provide customers with more granular information about their ancestry and ethnicity. We are constantly making improvements to both our reference datasets, and the overall pipeline we use to compute customers' Ancestry Composition reports. In fact, we recently rolled out a comprehensive ancestry update earlier in the year, increasing the countries and regions we report on — in order to provide more in-depth information to populations that are underrepresented in the study of genetics.

"In regards to the Ashkenazi reference populations, our precision for calling AJ [Ashkenazi Jewish] ancestry, has indeed improved from 97 percent to 99 percent over the past two years for these reasons. Our recall, meaning of all the Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry in the dataset, how much do we call AJ has improved to 97 percent, up from 93 percent two years ago.

"There may be inconsistencies across DNA ancestry tests due to differing algorithms and reference panels that differ in key respects."

Nat Geo did not respond to multiple requests for comment by press time.

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