The Unsettling Surprise of Ancestry DNA Testing

Like your fingerprint, your DNA is uniquely you – and some portions of it are also unique to you and your blood relatives. So whatever your DNA reveals is private and belongs to you, right? Not any longer – not if you’ve taken the AncestryDNA test.

Like millions of others before you, you’re curious about your ancestral background. You’ve purchased a DNA testing kit from Ancestry.com or received one as a gift. Soon you’ll discover your country or countries of family origin – but did you read the fine print? If you didn’t, you’re not alone, but you may be surprised, and perhaps dismayed, to learn that in that agreement to AncestryDNA’s terms, Ancestry.com owns the rights to your DNA forever.

Your DNA and Genetic Information May Be Used Against You Or a Blood Relative

That may not seem so foreboding until you realize you’ve not only agreed to these terms for yourself, but also for any genetic relative. Again, okay, what’s the big deal? This portion of the terms may answer that question:

“It is possible that information about you or a genetic relative could be revealed, such as that you or a relative are carriers of a particular disease. That information could be used by insurers to deny you insurance coverage, by law enforcement agencies to identify you or your relatives, and in some places, the data could be used by employers to deny employment.”

By giving informed consent, which is what you do when you agree to the AncestryDNA testing – whether you’ve read those details or not – you and your blood relatives – now have the potential for any information that arises from that testing, which includes analysis of about 700,000 genetic markers, to be denied insurance coverage, to be denied employment, or to be used by law enforcement as identification.

The potential for denial of insurance coverage ranges from health insurance, life insurance and disability insurance.

The personal implications of this are unsettling enough, but imagine a blood relative who has never undergone AncestryDNA testing to be denied employment or insurance due to the results of what you thought to be a private and personalized service.

Your DNA Belongs to Ancestry.com Into Perpetuity With All Rights Waived, Even Those of Privacy

By your agreement to those terms of the AncestryDNA test, you’ve waived any right to the results of that test to remaining private, from being transferred by Ancestry.com to anyone else in the world with no royalties to you. The agreement gives the genealogy site a virtually unfettered license to your DNA, not only for whatever testing methods are now available but any that may become available anytime in the future.

And privacy? That, too, is waived when you give consent through your agreement to have the DNA testing done. In the agreement, it is stated that AncestryDNA and the Ancestry Group Companies may “use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices that are now known or hereafter developed or discovered.”

And your legal rights? The agreement covers those, too. In one click of the “I agree” button, you agree to that AncestryDNA is not responsible for any potential negative outcome that may arise as a result of the testing, including but not limited to denial of insurance coverage or denial of employment.

For Your Consideration

Does this mean you shouldn’t use the services of AncestryDNA? Only you can answer that for yourself, but at the very least, read the agreement before you give consent. Read any agreement before you sign your name or provide consent. It is time-consuming and a sometimes arduous task to make it through that fine print, but your defense of, “But I didn’t read it,” will likely not be a defense at all.

Will Ancestry.com’s AncestryDNA agreement hold up in a court of law? Not being a legal scholar, I can’t answer that nor am I aware of any court cases testing this question, but the truth is, even if the agreement could be found non-binding, by the time it may happen, negative outcomes would have already occurred. You can’t un-ring a bell and you can’t take back knowledge that insurance companies and employers already have.

As so often happens, technology progresses more quickly than legislation can be developed to address legal and ethical details. The slippery slope of DNA/genetic testing and its results may well be an area that needs to be addressed by lawmakers sooner than later.


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