Most White Americans’ DNA Can Be Identified Through Genealogy Databases

from NYTs

The genetic genealogy industry is booming. In recent years, more than 15 million people have offered up their DNA — a cheek swab, some saliva in a test-tube — to services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com in pursuit of answers about their heritage. In exchange for a genetic fingerprint, individuals may find a birth parent, long-lost cousins, perhaps even a link to Oprah or Alexander the Great.

But as these registries of genetic identity grow, it’s becoming harder for individuals to retain any anonymity. Already, 60 percent of Americans of Northern European descent — the primary group using these sites — can be identified through such databases whether or not they’ve joined one themselves, according to a study published today in the journal Science.

Within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA, researchers found. The science-fiction future, in which everyone is known whether or not they want to be, is nigh.

“It’s not the distant future, it’s the near future,” said Yaniv Erlich, the lead author of the study. Dr. Erlich, formerly a genetic-privacy researcher at Columbia University, is the chief science officer of MyHeritage, a genetic ancestry website.

More here.

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21 Responses to Most White Americans’ DNA Can Be Identified Through Genealogy Databases

  1. Mackenzie Greenfield October 18, 2018 at 8:09 pm #

    One of the things about this that really bothers me is that the people that uploaded their DNA data into a database such as GEDmatch most likely did not expect or intend that their data would be used by law enforcement in this way. The original privacy statement of GEDmatch did say the DNA data would be shared but, because of the nature of the site, that is certainly expected. People are either looking for relatives or putting their information out there so relatives can find them – that would certainly require sharing of data for that purpose. I don’t think they expected sharing of data to locate criminals that might be relatives of theirs. The privacy statement has since changed and makes it clear that data can be used by law enforcement but, for those who may not have wanted their data used that way, it was already done.
    It concerned me that sometimes the use of DNA in this way led to the wrong person. There was a man in New Orleans who was incorrectly identified as a suspect through his father’s DNA. He was under suspicion for about a month before he was cleared. There was also an incorrect identification of an Oregon City man in the Golden State killer case (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2018/04/27/golden-state-killer-dna-website-gedmatch-was-used-to-identify-joseph-deangelo-as-suspect-police-say/?utm_term=.10f287d2a294). I can’t imagine being erroneously connected to a crime through the DNA of a third cousin who I am totally unaware of.
    Our DNA has a significant amount of personal/medically related information in it. We need to start thinking about protecting that information just as we currently highly protect medical information with HIPPA rules. Several years ago the United States passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (https://www.genome.gov/pages/policyethics/geneticdiscrimination/ginainfodoc.pdf).This Act was designed to prohibit discrimination in health insurance and employment based on genetic information. It falls short as it did not offer protection in some other areas. However, I also think it bypasses an important issue – who should be allowed access to our genetic information? It addresses how they cannot use that information but should they even have access to it? I think that is the more important issue that needs to be addressed.

  2. Alex Fialkowsky October 19, 2018 at 10:10 am #

    In a constantly advancing society, DNA identification is something that is already used on some levels in today’s day and age. DNA examination is crucial in identifying criminals in cases as horrible as sexual assault, murder, and even burglary. However, people’s idea of DNA being used to solve crimes is horribly skewed by crime television. The only way to identify a person by their DNA is if the identifying party already possesses some of their DNA. There is no possible way to identify someone based on a single sample, it must be compared to an officially recorded one to prove identity. Thanks to advancing genetic technology and interest, this may no longer be a problem. Thanks to companies such as 23AndMe as well as Ancestry, people can now track their DNA and potentially go back generations in time to discover their roots. There has been an influx of people purchasing these products in recent years for this very reason, to discover their true roots.
    It is on record that 60% of Americans of North European decent can be linked back to this “database” of DNA that is on record. It was also stated in the article that this number could increase to 90% within the next three years. To me, I find this all very frightening for several reasons, but I also believe this system could have the potential for good if used properly. DNA tracking is one of the easiest ways to identify an individual. With a database this large people could be tracked or identified by something as simple as an empty drink left behind.
    I feel that there are some positive aspects to this, such as having the ability to more easily identify criminals. It is unlikely that a large amount of criminals have used this test. However, it is mentioned in the article that of the 60% of the population that is in this so called database, only a portion of them actually signed up for the service. This could possibly mean that only one relative would be required to possess data on potentially a whole family of North Europeans. Since the DNA is so similar between relatives, especially of almost identical race and ethnicity. This is also why this practice could be catastrophic. If the government had this recorded database, they could be on alert for any people of interest by simply tracking their DNA. People are literally paying money to give up their freedom of anonymity and this could lead to a serious problem if not handled correctly.

    • Mackenzie Greenfield October 19, 2018 at 2:08 pm #

      One of the things about this that really bothers me is that the people that uploaded their DNA data into a database such as GEDmatch most likely did not expect or intend that their data would be used by law enforcement in this way. The original privacy statement of GEDmatch did say the DNA data would be shared but, because of the nature of the site, that is certainly expected. People are either looking for relatives or putting their information out there so relatives can find them – that would certainly require sharing of data for that purpose. I don’t think they expected sharing of data to locate criminals that might be relatives of theirs. The privacy statement has since changed and makes it clear that data can be used by law enforcement but, for those who may not have wanted their data used that way, it was already done.
      It concerned me that sometimes the use of DNA in this way led to the wrong person. There was a man in New Orleans who was incorrectly identified as a suspect through his father’s DNA. He was under suspicion for about a month before he was cleared. There was also an incorrect identification of an Oregon City man in the Golden State killer case (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2018/04/27/golden-state-killer-dna-website-gedmatch-was-used-to-identify-joseph-deangelo-as-suspect-police-say/?utm_term=.10f287d2a294). I can’t imagine being erroneously connected to a crime through the DNA of a third cousin who I am totally unaware of.
      Our DNA has a significant amount of personal/medically related information in it. We need to start thinking about protecting that information just as we currently highly protect medical information with HIPAA rules. Several years ago the United States passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (https://www.genome.gov/pages/policyethics/geneticdiscrimination/ginainfodoc.pdf). This Act was designed to prohibit discrimination in health insurance and employment based on genetic information. It falls short as it did not offer protection in some other areas. However, I also think it bypasses an important issue – who should be allowed access to our genetic information? It addresses how they cannot use that information but should they even have access to it? I think that is the more important issue that needs to be addressed.

  3. Melissa Joas October 19, 2018 at 3:42 pm #

    RE: Most White Americans’ DNA Can Be Identified Through Genealogy Databases

    This article brought up some obvious benefits of the vast number of DNA profiles that have been collected and stored by companies that sell services to analyze their structure. I have personally used one of the services, at the urging of one of my family members. It was interesting to see the slight variations in percentages of nationalities each of us as full siblings had in our profiles. While my close family is very small, I enjoyed finding out that I had second and third cousins who had also used Ancestry DNA. There are not too many people with my maiden name in the United States, and only a handful in Germany. This raises one concern that a few people I have spoken to have about having their DNA tested. There have been instances where people discovered family secrets that were meant to stay secrets. My sister spent a lot of time putting the pieces together, and she connected with several relatives that we never knew about due to a name change on my mother’s side of the family. This is a secret that my family was more than happy to uncover. It is also relevant to the purpose of the testing because the name change came at a time when Polish immigrants suffered a lot of discrimination. As expected, a large percentage of my genetic makeup is from that part of the world.

    Another concern that had never really crossed my mind is that there is no way to be completely sure that a person is sending in his or her own DNA for testing. This is especially relevant if these databases are to be used to link people to crimes. Additionally, identifying a suspect through partially matching DNA profiles should not be considered the same as having an exact match in terms of evidence. Finding a partial match through a third cousin is a great way to produce a suspect where one might not have previously existed, but it should be paired with other evidence such as the individual’s whereabouts at the time of the incident. While I do not like the idea of the potential for my DNA profile eventually being made available to organizations that I did not authorize its release to, in some way it provides me with the comfort of knowing that my profile will never be tied to a crime. For those who have committed serious crimes in the past and those who will in the future, this is not a comforting idea.

    In addition to identifying crime suspects, there are companies that help match abandoned or adopted children with their birth families. DNAAdoption is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization that recently helped a woman solve a lifelong mystery about her identity. She thought that her father had abandoned her when she was a child and the only clues that he left were a fake name and a fingerprint. It was through DNA that she discovered that the man who had abandoned her was not her father, but her kidnapper. He died in prison without providing any information, and this was when she began her research and found her identity through DNA databases. There were many twists to her story and it was not a happy one with her mother likely having been murdered and her father’s side of the family not wanting to have anything to do with her (How Genetic Sleuthing Helped a Kidnapped Girl Recover Her Identity). Again, this is a risk that people take when they become involved in searches through any one of the many genetic profile sites.

    There are a lot of different DNA testing services offering assessments of genetic predispositions to certain disorders. With so many companies performing DNA analysis, security should become more of a focus to ensure that the data is not readily available to unauthorized consumers or used for the wrong purposes. With prospective employers already digging way too deep into candidates’ personal and financial lives during the hiring process and often at intervals throughout the course of their employment, gaining access to an employee’s genetic profile could be a barrier to employment. There is also the potential for insurance companies charging higher premiums or denying coverage altogether for people with “flawed” genes. With the power to help and the power to harm, this newer scientific fad needs to be closely regulated to protect the population from its misuse.

  4. Michael Zera October 19, 2018 at 4:29 pm #

    In today’s world, technology is advancing by the day, and as shown over the past couple decades, scientists are now studying DNA identification and improving the advancement of it. When people think of searching for someone’s DNA, most people think of solving criminal cases, and nothing else of it. However, people have now offered up their DNA either from “saliva or a cheek swab” to figure out their heritage such as websites like 23and Me and Ancestry.com. I never thought to that extent that someone can send their DNA in a test tube and figure out their ancestors from their past. This demonstrates scientists and their technological advancements that is only improving from here on out. Specifically, more people are volunteering to give up their DNA for scientific testing to figure out long lost family members. 60% of Americans of North European decent are using these sits can be identified through such databases whether they’ve joined one themselves. And in a few years, more than 90% of Americans of Northern European decent is going to be identifiable from their DNA. Although this might be cool and interesting for some may think, it is crazy to see how the government is soon going to be able to have the DNA out of millions of individuals. DNA tracking is something that is going to be life changing the perspective of how it is viewed today. It is crazy to imagine how your DNA might be able to be tracked so easily, by someone touch of a plate. Security regarding one’s privacy seems to be getting seemingly out of hand. Yet, people agree with these decisions as violence is a huge issue today. Tracking criminals is soon going to be twice as easy as it is today, which makes sense as this is a soon to be goal for many officials. People who are paying for these DNA tests are paying for losing their privacy and freedom, almost questioning one’s character. It is astonishing how DNA tests may soon be able to identify a whole family from only one of the family members. Linking these DNA results will be able to possess data from possibly a generation of family members. Having this information might be beneficial, but the suspicion behind this is still in the air as a privacy problem.

  5. Michelle Vekshteyn October 19, 2018 at 8:34 pm #

    To me, 23andMe and Ancestry.com are such amazing tools that we have in our society. Although I have never used them, I know people that have and they have found out so much cool information about their relatives. My family is pretty small, and we do not know much about who came before us when my parents and sisters were still based in Russia, since I am first generation American. I would love to know more about my family tree or if I am anything more than just Russian. All of my friends are different mixes of Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Korean, English, etc. meanwhile I am just a purebred… to the best of mine and my families knowledge that is. On top of knowing if I am any other heritage, it would be amazing to connect with family members as well as see if I have any links to famous people. I mean… who wouldn’t want to see if they were related to a royal family or a celebrity?
    According to a study published in the journal Science, it is starting to become more difficult for people to retain anonymity as these websites grow. The article states that, “Within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA, researchers found. The science-fiction future, in which everyone is known whether or not they want to be, is nigh”. To me this is a little creepy since I have never used either of these websites, as mentioned before. Even if someone has a near similar genetic sequence, they can be identified as a third cousin or even closer. From this identification, people can actually figure out others’ identities and find them.
    The sentence that shocked me the most was the fact that, “That technique has been used in recent months to identify more than 15 suspects in murder and sexual assault cases.” It is extremely messed up and scary that there are people trying to murder and assault people after finding them on websites that are only trying to do good and connect families together, and helping people figure out their heritage. This article honestly shocked me a lot.

  6. Alexis Job October 19, 2018 at 8:50 pm #

    Being able to determine family relationships through DNA testing can be positive and negative thing. From a scientific perspective, decoding DNA and understanding its linkages with other forms of DNA is a breakthrough. This can be used to find long lost family members, understand possible hereditary illnesses, and find a family’s original geographical background. But what are the drawbacks of DNA testing. DNA testing as stated above can be used to find criminals based on their genes, But what components of each gene our investigators using. Can people be mistaken for other people, what happens done if they find the wrong person. What about people within the same family line, how precise is the search?

    Aside from criminal investigation, what else are people’s cells be used for ? Since people willingly send in the cells by swabbing their cheeks or donating blood, what can be done with those cells after they are donated? Is there a possibility of untold research occurring? Suppose the sort of thing gets out of hand and people start losing the rights to their own cells based on legal terms created for thess circumstances. What about anomalies in donors cells? Could there be an instance like Henrietta Lacks? How far will this sort of research be taken, and could this become a series of vigorous legal battles? Are there laws to protect people against exploitation resulting from this sort of research? As stated in the article, only people of European descent are being tested; what happens when people of other races get involved? Will the same equality be shown to them?

    Over all, having the capability to identify sopecific people and those related to them, allow the innovation process within scientific research and discovery to be pushed forward. This can be used in so many positive ways come out a can allow people to be informed of themselves and those Genetically similar to them. Aside from that, people must be weary and stay informed when choosing to donate their cells for any reason, especially scientific research. Acquire knowledge about yourself and your family line using this method is intrigue a and invigorating, until your rights to your own body are exploited, and cannot be regained.

  7. Justin Heath October 19, 2018 at 9:38 pm #

    This September I went on a trip where I saw around 20 of my family members for the first time in a while as a family reunion. As part of the trip, my Aunt bought the entire family test kits to have their DNA tested through Ancestry.com. We then had a big gathering where we all compared our results and what we found was amazing. It was crazy to see how my great uncle is 100% Irish and can be directly traced to a city in Ireland. I thought that was impossible since were so many generations separated from the country. Then on a completely different spectrum, I had the most diversity in my test being the only person in that group with ties to Native Americans and countries in Africa. The whole experience made me want to learn more about where I come from, and any time I tell this story to anyone they tell me how much they want to do the same.
    When I was taking this test I understood that my DNA could be used to find relatives and forecast what kinds of health issues I would be having in the future, but what really interested me in this article is that some of these services are used to find people who have committed crimes. Although that’s a very useful and practical use of these services, I was somewhat relieved to see that the service I used can’t be used to track people down like that. Not because I’ve done anything crazy, but it seems somewhat invasive. Also, how accurate can they be when they prosecute people using these services because when I took my test I received results about two weeks later and by the time I went on my trip they changed again. Another thing that concerns me is the health data privacy issues that some of these services produce. Overall, I think that these services and databases are very interesting and helpful in some cases, but they should be used with great caution. Our technology is becoming more and more expansive with each passing year, but I think we should be moving slowly to make sure there are minimal drawbacks before we start using these forms of technology for serious cases like the criminal cases listed in the article.

  8. Paul Lee October 21, 2018 at 2:45 am #

    This article was very informative of what I can expect in the future, soon specifically, that DNA can be used to find your heritage and family members. I was very skeptical of these companies for a long time, like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage, to be able to use my spit to find my heritage or whom I was related to. I was even more cynical over the fact that they have advertised over the internet that these companies have over a million participants. I did not think any of this was possible until I read this article by Ms Murphy. Our science has developed at a profound rate that we can use human DNA from blood to saliva to find who we are to find out murder cases. I was amazed to read this quote from the article, “ To identify a person through a DNA sample, an investigator uploads a previously analyzed genetic sequence to a database”. Through this technique, they were able to identify multiple murder suspects. I was elated to find that especially through this procedure, these scientists were able to find out who the Golden State Killer was. I have read up on the Golden State Killer who committed his crimes in the 70s’ and 80s’. It was a great accomplishment and I support the use of identifying different human DNAs through this way. I, nonetheless, agree with Dr Elrich in attaching some sort of cryptographic signature to the genetic profiles that these genealogy companies inspect. A safe and very secure way of guarantying that someone who is uploading the DNA is who they are and not using this sensitive information for anything awful. This type of information needs a security if its database or DNA base were to grow. The way that you can just mail the different genealogy companies a spit or any DNA, it is very dangerous. Overall, I had no clue about this strong science behind the genealogy companies, I would love to participate and understand who my family members are. It could possibly connect me to family members I have never met or to any celebrities possibly. I am still skeptical over the whole matter, I hope there is more restriction or regulation on this whole matter in the future.

  9. Clement Bourret October 26, 2018 at 9:12 pm #

    As the article says, people are very interested in obtaining and sharing their genetic data in order to know more about themselves, about their roots and where they are from. This article made me think about a video called « The DNA Journey ». The DNA Journey is a video made by Momondo in order to promote diversity. For information, Momondo is a travel metasearch site that finds and compares the best offers on flights, hotels, car rentals, and package holidays. Basically, through that video, the agency propose to the participants to investigate about their origins via a DNA test in order to suggest them a trip according to their DNA results. It is possible to carry out the DNA test for free. In the video we can see participants, before having realized the DNA test, being questioned about their origins, what country do they like, which one do they do not like, etc. When they discover their results most of them are surprised because they were not expecting such a diversity in their origins. It appears that someone had a cousin in the same room without knowing that both shared family links before the test. I thought the promotion was really good because the video has a very positive emotional impact. It is always joyful to find out that we have more family members than we thought and also that we are from different culture. It brings people together and make us realize that there are less differences than what we thought between two individuals nowadays. Being indexed by DNA could really help people in the future, such as orphans to find the family that they never had. Everyone is gonna be indexed in database and that will help the forces of law and order to arrest criminals. As recently, the man responsible behind the many pipe bomb packages in the US has been arrested because of his DNA found on one of the package. Those are the reasons why DNA databases are going to be beneficial for the human race despite the fact that we will lose a part of our anonymity.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tyaEQEmt5ls

    https://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2018/10/26/qui-est-cesar-sayoc-jr-lhomme-arrete-apres-la-vague-de-colis-pieges-aux-etats-unis_a_23572696/?utm_hp_ref=fr-homepage

  10. Amanda Nitting November 2, 2018 at 5:50 pm #

    The curiosity and satisfaction of learning more about one’s family history are extremely intriguing to many. This explains the reasons millions of people invest money and give up samples of their DNA so that they can receive some answers about their family tree. Popular sites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe have gained their reputation on the desire for others to learn more about their family’s past and the make connections. Discovering possible relatives that one could have never imagined finding must be an unexplainable feeling that drives ones to continue to be interested in giving DNA samples. The science that is being involved in this process is to search for people’s third cousins. The article goes into detail about the procedures in which they analyze the data to help with family lines but this “technique has been used in recent months to identify more than 15 suspects in murder and sexual assault cases” (Murphy). This is very fascinating and just shows the progression of technology and science. However, with everything, there is a good and bad side to bringing new finding to reality. According to this article, “Within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA, researchers found” (Murphy). Taking this high percentage into consideration, there are going to be people out there that do not like this. One of the biggest reasons that this seems to be the case is due to the lack of privacy. In today’s world, there is an obvious issue when it comes to creating privacy boundaries. If this prediction comes true, which it seems that it will, there could be some issues raised by the public about having a say in who is allowed to have this information.
    Although I have not personally taken part in DNA sampling, I do have friends that are extremely curious about this subject area and have sent in their DNA. The results are very interesting and reveal information that one might not even expect. In addition, there are many people that I know including my own family that has gotten in the websites such as Ancestry.com to try and help put pieces together about the past. It is something that is fascinating because most times the discoveries one finds are not what that individual was expecting. Also, like the article addresses, there can be cases where people will find out they are related to someone that they did not know previously which enables new connections. Since this is very new and the privacy factor should be taken seriously, it will be important for these genealogy companies to have cryptographic signatures so that the genetic profiles stay protected and credible. Security is so important in this situation and there will most likely be some type of legislation passed to ensure that the sharing of one’s genetic information does not get corrupt.
    Overall, the ways on which this new science method includes searching for third cousins to start the process of identifying a person through a sample of DNA is positive. The fact that this could help with solving crimes and tracking felons down will limit the amount of falsely accused. This is due to the accuracy that will come out of using DNA samples to discover the guilty person at a much quicker pace. However, this new science is going to chip away at privacy issue that the world is facing with the advancements in technology. The proper protections would need to be attached to this because, without it, those that will not be in favor of this will start to think their rights are not being safeguarded.

  11. Robert Musantry November 7, 2018 at 6:06 pm #

    The ability to use DNA to connect family trees and to identify people has always been fascinating to me. According to this article, it is much easier to do then I imagined. For some reason, I had just assumed that places like Ancestry.com and 23andme were somehow scams that were not doing what they said they did. However, they have plenty of users and the more users they get the clearer the picture of life gets. Apparently, 90% of Americans of European decent (a category I fit into) will be identifiable through our DNA within three years.
    Since so many people use these services now, as part of the fad that they have become, it is likely that most people have a close relative in some sort of DNA system, which means they might be able to be found themselves. I know for a fact that some of my cousins used 23andme earlier this year, and sent in some DNA to get tested. The results were pretty expected, as our grandparents are all from outside the US and so we knew our ancestry quite well. But what this means is that I could potentially be identified through DNA now since my DNA is so close to that of my cousins.
    This type of technology is cool for people to find out who they are related to, but it also can serve a much larger purpose. It can help identify criminals! We are living in the future. We are solving crimes today that happened in the 70s and 80s simply based on the ability to use DNA. Hopefully, this shows a positive use of DNA becoming accepted by the general public. But it could also go negatively, if the data gets into the wrong hands. If that happens, people may be able to identify us based only on the DNA collected from relatives, and to be successful they typically only look for third cousins at the least. The article says that each and every one of us probably has about 800 people who fit into this category. As Graham Coop, a population genetics researcher at UC Davis put it, “This is this moment of, wow, oh, this opens up a lot of possibilities, some of which are good and some are more questionable.”

  12. Nicole Faerber November 7, 2018 at 9:02 pm #

    As technology advances so do the ability of one’s personal information gets hacked. People are currently taking precautions to in order to make sure their personal data on computers are safe from hackers. However, people are also giving very important information out to companies that do not have a lot of security. There is a trend right now, where people are looking for their ancestors, and to really find members of their families. Even I have been tempted by the ability to find out more about my family’s history. But there are some people who refuse to have their DNA put into a system due to the fact that they do not want anyone to be able to access it. Those people’s fears are coming true. Now there is the ability that one’s DNA can be traced by linking the similarities of those whose DNA is in a database. I believe that this is one thing that is greatly going to help the world. This ability, when used by experts, can help murder, and assault cases be solved. It helps to identify possible suspects. Then from those suspects DNA can be compared to the one found. I think that this is so important. It can help bring justice to the victims of these crimes. Anything that can help make the world a better place I believe is a good thing.
    I do understand that there are also some negatives to this new technological advancement. Obviously, this is not foolproof. There is the chance that it will not work. Also, people who do not want their information being linked no longer have a chance of being anonymous. The ability for one skilled person to be able to find you through a third cousin that you do not even know is frightening. Also, there is the fact that these companies that house DNA are not as secure as they could be. There need to be rules set in place to make sure that no one is using the data approximately. Someone’s DNA is unique to them, no one wants anyone using that for their own personal gain. There needs to be security in these companies that ensure that the data cannot be hacked easily.
    I do not believe that this technological advancement is not something to be feared. The greater good that it can cause in order to help people get justice. By catching people who do horrible crimes, it will help create a safer world in my opinion. Also, it can help identify victims from DNA, where other methods have not worked. This is no longer something that is out of reach, and in the far future. It is the now, and it will change the way the world is in multiple ways.

  13. Silky B November 9, 2018 at 12:59 pm #

    As technology continues to progress, it is inevitable to prevent people from wanting to push the envelope and see how far they can get it. This brings me to the point that not just because you CAN, that you SHOULD. This article exemplifies this. The current fad that society has with self-identification is leading people to upload extremely personal information to sites that have little to no security measures. The aim is to find out more about one’s ancestry and family history. The problem is that the anonymity factor has been removed. The DNA of one person can be used to trace someone else’s DNA if the DNA’s are close enough in similarity. For example, if my cousin was to use one of these sites to try and figure out what her ancestry is, they can use her DNA that she sent in to be tested to identify me as well. According to this article, “Within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA, researchers found” (Murphy). Taking this high percentage into consideration, there are going to be people out there that do not like this. One of the biggest reasons that this seems to be the case is due to the lack of privacy.
    The positive side to this technology is that is being used to solve murders. As the article states, this DNA technology was used to identify multiple murder suspects. This is great because it is making it easier for justice to be served. What bothers me is that is not what the people who sent in their DNA to be tested intended. They sent it in to learn about their history and about who they are genetically.
    Aside from criminal investigation, what else are people’s DNA’s being used for? Where does one set the boundaries for this type of technology?

  14. Lauren F November 9, 2018 at 3:16 pm #

    It’s very natural for humans, especially Americans, to wonder where they came from. Even if you were born in America your family most likely came from somewhere else. These DNA test have tapped into a market of curiosity. Most of us probably didn’t give a second thought to freely giving away our DNA. I gave my dad a test kit for his birthday and we were all really excited to get the results. We found out a few things about ourselves that we didn’t know before. I did however start to get concerned when I read the terms and conditions. It basically said that your DNA would be kept on file and might be used for tests or experiments. We have essentially been giving away a big part of our privacy to people that we don’t even know. I’m not one to believe in conspiracies but I do wonder what they will do with our DNA and if it will backfire on us.

    On the flip side I have seen this storage of DNA be put to good use. The police are now able to find the people who committed crimes decades ago. DNA samples have always been collected but it wasn’t until the 1990s that we were really able to identify and understand them. Even if we can identify DNA we may not be able to catch a killer. Police are only able to run a DNA match if a person’s DNA is already in the system or if they’re able to obtain it legally. Because of these DNA test they’re able to take old samples of DNA and match them up with the DNA samples given to companies such as 23andMe. They are even able to identify somebody by looking at the DNA of their third cousin. This is truly amazing especially when you consider the police were able to find criminals such as the Golden State killer decades after the crimes were committed. I can see the sort of technology going two ways. It can either be abused and used as a way to keep track of us or it will be a reliable tool to solve crimes.

  15. Jaden Tate November 13, 2018 at 4:41 pm #

    If I could somehow convince my parents to spend $100 on a genetic genealogy service. They do not believe that such a service would be able to tell me who my ancestors are or where they came from. The fact that this service was not made a while ago blows my mind. It is also mind blowing that this industry is able to tell us so much about our history just by our saliva. The fact that “within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA” really seems somewhat unreasonable. With so many people in the world, Europe’s population is equivalent to 9.83% of the total world population. It is interesting how they are now trying to get the research more involved with trying to identify one’s third cousin. There have been so many people that have been using this service that they are using the DNA to find one’s cousins who have a close enough DNA. The paragraph states that there are at least “800 people out there” who are able to be your third cousin. I found it interesting that with the “technique [that] has been used in recent months to identify more than 15 suspects in the murder and sexual assault cases”. With so many people using such packages that Ancestry.com and 23andMe offer I feel as though it is only time before the police ask for a way to access their files. By allowing the police to access a wide range of DNA, it will make it easier to solve cases they have yet to. Examples of the cops using these websites to their advantage were; “an arrest in the case of the Golden State Killer, who terrorized California with rapes in murders in the ‘70s and 80’s”, as well as “a truck driver in Washington State was charged with the murder of a Canadian in 1987”, and “a DJ in Pennsylvania was charged with the murder of a teacher in 1992”. Without being able to get the DNA sample a lot of these cases would yet to be solved, and the murder would still be out there.

  16. Danielle C January 25, 2019 at 12:24 am #

    I enjoyed reading this article and learning more about the DNA testing. Over the past five years of seeing commercials about 23andMe.com and Ancestry.com, I would think “No one really does this and believes it?” Also, “What will they use this information for? Don’t they know who holds onto this information?” Recently more and more people I have known in my life have been trying this sort of testing. I understand wanting to know more about your background and heritage is interesting, but what about that information after? Who ends up with it? It’s not like they just throw away the samples into the garbage and be done with it. As Heather Murphy notes in the article, it is used for more than just telling you what you have in your DNA, but can even help investigators reopen crimes from the past and get a successful ending to those cases. What is very scary is if this personal information gets in the wrong hands, a lot of information would be at risk just like a person’s social security number, license, or credit card numbers. To see how far and how fast technology has been going is sometimes a little unsettling because back in the day when I was curious about my background, I would ask my parents and they would tell me “Well your half and half of both your father and I”. Today, it is completely different knowing vital specifics about your heritage you didn’t know you were a part of or even the small town in some foreign country that your mother’s aunt’s sister was from and you are part of that percent. Completing one of these ancestry testings could prove to be good to give light on someone who needs blood or is in danger of a possible disease like alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis. These tests could help someone to receive treatment and save years of aggravation and distress dealing with a disease. In the end, it is a interesting about how these tests not only can be helpful in everyday life, how they can benefit the health of someone or finish an unsolved crime, but also a little unsettling about who could have a hold on the information and how people can mask the dangers putting your personal DNA in danger of it getting into the wrong hands by just put your DNA in a tube and mailing it to a company.

  17. Doran Abdi January 31, 2019 at 12:33 pm #

    I found this article very fascinating as I, lately, have been interested in using either Ancestry.com or 23andMe.com. In my eyes, it is a fantastic opportunity for people to be able to trace their roots and the history of their family as it provides information that may have never been able to be attained. Although, reading this article it is starting to spark a few questions in my mind. We live in a world where we are losing more and more privacy and many people are starting to resent this more and more. Part of this problem has been the evolving of technology. It has become a common for many to realize that their devices may be listening to them (https://www.cnet.com/forums/discussions/coincidence-or-is-my-phone-listening-to-me/) or that websites such as Facebook may be leaking a lot of their personal information. I find this fear of losing every sense of privacy to the “big brother” to be incredibly terrifying as I stare at the webcam camera of my laptop. What GEDmatch is described in doing in this article is exactly what I am beginning to fear the most. Technology should not evolve into something that we cannot even trust as it has potential to positively change the world in so many ways. It really upsets me that GEDmatch would take the identify of the users of the service and provide it to others that the users were not aware of. Despite the fact that it had been used in certain cases for authorities to identify a man (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/06/gedmatch-police-genealogy-database/561695/) who had been under investigation, I do not condone the idea of this website being able to provide this information to anyone, even the authorities. I believe that if these DNA identifying services want to give the DNA that is provided to them to authorities or other services, then the one who is providing the DNA should be aware of this. There should be, at least, a clear-cut statement that makes the user aware that this website will provide their information and DNA to these types of services. Either sites like GEDmatch should make it very clear that they may provide the DNA to others, or there should be legislation that is implemented to prevent services in releasing this information. Although, even if there is a further measure taken for the user to become more aware that their DNA may be used by officials or if there are regulations passed preventing DNA services to do such a thing, this information has already been used by officials and has entered the sentence. It is scary to think that we are approaching a world—if we are not living in it already—that technology is being used for users to allow all of their information to be accessed and used by authorities and officials.

  18. Claudia Ralph February 8, 2019 at 10:46 am #

    As someone that has used 23andMe, I never really understood the greater implications of such technology besides knowing my already confirmed DNA relatives (because for a while I thought I was adopted). People always say things to me to the extent of “why would you want to turn your data over to the government or other companies like that?” And while I believe there is definitely a potential abuse of data that can happen, this article is consistent with my belief that software like 23andMe, Ancestry and other DNA services do more good than harm in the long run. What would stop us in the future from just collecting saliva from babies when they are born to potentially solve crimes or test for hidden health genetic health problems?
    Through my DNA test, I learned a little more about myself, which was a fine price for me to pay. At this point, I am sure 23andMe could connect the remaining DNA links with my parents and other relatives because so many of my family members have spit into those little plastic tubes all from different generations. It is quite frankly no surprise to me that eventually there will be no need for DNA tests, and that these companies will be able to string potential DNA sequences.
    The bottom line of this argument is that this has become a trend of human curiosity, which no one will be able to escape because we are all connected via DNA. When this first began, it was harder to understand the wider implications of the testing and as this process evolves, we will be able to understand it even more. Even if someone doesn’t want to be included in this fad, DNA makes is completely impossible to remove oneself from the DNA craze. DNA links all of us so even if my parents didn’t want to be included, my grandparents and siblings taking this test makes that merely impossible. Almost 98 percent of my DNA was discoverable after my 23andMe test, which linked me to thousands of other people. It will be interesting to see the evolution of the way this data is tested and used by the government and other agencies and companies.

  19. Lillie Moran March 1, 2019 at 3:44 pm #

    Dramatic developments in DNA research have increased in years past, where now, tracing your heritage has become something that is understood that one must know. From personalized kits to home packages, finding out your heritage has become easier than ever, and is now progressing our history as a country to one that is dominantly focusing on our past in our to push us into our future. But with these new tests, there comes a bigger issue of privacy. These websites are now connecting people with distant relatives where profiles of individuals, who are not even subscribers to the site, are being used in order to determine the heritage of another. Now more than ever, people are trying to trace their roots, but at what cost? Will these heritage-tracing sites start to control our lives in ways that social media sites have. This data-controlled service has now more personal information than Facebook may have on an individual, so how do we stop this? The answer is simple- we really can’t. This service is one that ought to be encourage, not frowned upon. In our society today, we are constantly looking for excuses to find social justice. We see it in politics and even in our daily lives where arguments stem from our cultures and past heritages in order to find some “common ground” or to show someone that they have been discriminated in the past. At this point in time where social justice means to rewrite our whole legal and economic systems, people are now searching for the truth. For example, the topic of removing Confederate statues from government buildings has been one that has caused major controversy over the past few years. Now, people are using the argument that these statues are showing that our institutionalized government is now a system of only white privilege, where we refuse to acknowledge the past torment of slavery. People, particularly on the left, are using their heritage to claim that they are owed for something, leading them to social reforms. So how does this relate to an improvement in DNA research? Now, people are more dependent on tracing their heritage, not to just have it for family purposes, but to create a larger divide in society.

    The article does the important job of relating this to the growing concern of digital privacy in our society. Social media companies have been under scrutiny for quite a while over this issue, but now companies simply designed to trace heritage are now under the spotlight. The article poses that, much like social media websites, there ought to be private profiles where only the companies are using the information in order to benefit the individual rather than the company itself. This poses the bigger question, what is our legal system going to do about it? In my opinion, if there are already measures being taken to protect individuals from social media companies, there also has to be restrictions on these companies. The line is now drawn in digital privacy, and now we are starting to see a shift from digital platform, to things as simple as DNA kits used in the home.

  20. Mark Heath June 14, 2019 at 7:45 pm #

    This is a topic I have been following and interested in for some time. The advancements of using DNA evidence to match with DNA sent to labs at genealogy centers is truly changing law enforcement practices today. This is assisting agencies with the ability for a lead that they otherwise would not have. Police have the ability to match a collected sample with the databases at these labs. They can find near misses, which are usually third or closer cousins, and use that information to narrow the pool of possible suspects. These clues are not enough by itself for a conviction in a court, nor should it be enough for a judge to sign an arrest or search warrant with. However, what these genealogy sites offer is a strong lead. Police have the ability to know who the suspect “could” be and then using actually police investigative skills, start building a case strong enough for an arrest. For law enforcement, it is hard to gain evidence when you don’t know where to look. Many times, you may know the gender, race, or age range of your suspect which narrows it down to still an enormous amount. With genealogy testing, narrowing down to a third cousin can narrow down your results to a handful of possible suspects. The chances of solving a case then are much greater.

    This is the most powerful and useful tool law enforcement has had at their disposal since the use of fingerprints or DNA profiling itself. Agencies are using it all over the country to solve cases and to even identify victims. I recently listened to a podcast produced by New Hampshire Public Radio Broadcast called “Bear Brook”, which told the events of the Bear Brook murders which took place more than 30 years ago. The podcast recalled details of police discovering the remains of 4 human bodies locked inside barrels at Bear Brook. Inside was one woman in her 20’s, and three children. For 30 years, to include when the podcast was released, the identity of the bodies was still unknown. The suspect had been captured and sentence but did he did not name the bodies prior to his death in 2007. He was captured because of the work conducted by a genealogist, who was able to identify a close cousin of his. More impressive, an update to the case occurred when they used this same genealogy approach to identify the victims inside the barrels. For more than 30 years the bodies had been buried in an unnamed grave and without the family even being notified. Having the ability to close the case, give a name to the victims, and notify families of their loss was long overdue.

    I do understand the privacy concerns associated with these methods, and the fear of the misuse of the information. In the arrest of the Golden State Killer, the suspect was matched with a third cousin, assisting law enforcements ability to narrow down and identify him as the killer through genealogy. The suspect never consented to his DNA profile, nor did he ever sign up for 23andMe or ancestry databases. People in his distant family did though. Ultimately when you sign up to have your DNA profile added to one of these databases, you are consenting for yourself, and your entire family. Another concern is the misuse of DNA information. Embedded in your DNA profile is many things, to include your susceptibility to certain diseases. What if life insurance companies, employers, or financial companies find ways to gain access to these databases? Should they have the ability to extract information to adjust rates or deny that house loan because your susceptibility to a certain disease is higher due to your DNA profile? These may be a little far-fetched, but I bet the idea of using 23andMe or GEDmatch to solve crimes was as well 10 years ago.

    We should encourage the good work that is being done with the technological advances in DNA while being cautious of what is still to come. Regulations and strict privacy on DNA profiles are needed to ensure the information is used as intended.

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