23AndMe? I don't think so!

Another one of the more interesting presentations at the DLD Conference was the sales presentation given by Esther Dyson, Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey.

I call it a sales presentation because the 3 speakers in that session were all board members of 23andMe and they spoke the entire time about 23andMe’s product offering – your DNA explained.

How does it work? For about $1,000 dollars you get a saliva collection kit which you complete and return to 23andMe. This returned saliva kit contains de facto, a sample of your DNA.

23andMe examine this DNA and return a report outlining your ancestry, you can compare your results with other, anonymised group data to see how prevalent your trait of reading Esquire on the toilet on Saturday mornings is (not really!) or just how likely you are to die of diabetes, heart attack, cancer, etc.

If all your family (parents, grand-parents, children, grand-children, etc.) submit their DNA, you can get a fascinating map of who inherited what traits from whom. At $1,000 a head you better have a big bank balance or a small family though (and hope that you are not in for nasty surprises like, oops, maybe that guy you called Dad all these years isn’t actually related to you at all!).

Now, I’m not a hugely private guy. I regularly publish photos of my family (including my two kids) on Flickr. I publish my contact details, including mobile phone number and email in the sidebar of this blog in plain text. I blog about deeply personal matters on this blog. In short, I’m quite an open guy.

I stop short though at the prospect of sending my DNA to a company to be analysed (never mind paying them $1,000 for the privilege).

This is not a matter of ignorance. I specialised in molecular biology in the final two years of my degree in plant science.

No, this is a matter of absolute unease with the idea of anyone having possession of analysed samples of my DNA – the most fundamental element of my being. Even if this service were free, I really can’t see myself using it. I’m not sure I can completely explain logically why but it is not for me.

8 thoughts on “23AndMe? I don't think so!”

  1. So what they would then have is my DNA. But they also then have part of my children’s DNA. Given how insurance companies want to cut out the high risks, why give them this data to not just use on me but also my children? I’d be violating their privacy at an amazing level.

    And this company – at what point do they sell that information on? Such information would seem to be of much less value if there is no additional information attached to it.

    This is wrong on every level.

  2. Spooky Indeed – What I really wonder is what they will do with the collective information they compile over the years.

    If Joe can compare DNA traits against Mary’s saliva swab sample – or find friends with a genetic disposition for being red headed, with a cleft palette, musically inclined, left-handed, weak-hearted fellow alcoholics who descended from Norway – how soon is will it be where governments and insurance organizations leverage this database.

    Lords knows we wouldn’t want to the Government to forcefully start taking out DNA samples… but guise it will a “Hey, Isn’t this a cool friendly offer….” and people get up early to jump in line. Why are we so prone to line-up and just give away our most private personal data for a 5% discount or fee gummy bears.

    For more interesting reading on giving away your privacy and laying the ground work for perhaps losing more personal liberties – check out your local library — or this interesting link…


  3. You’re 100% correct Tom.
    But then people blithely allow their irises to be scanned on entry to the US for a shopping trip and for me that’s nearly as bad (I know some resign themselves to it only because they have to go for work reasons), and the main reason why I won’t go to the US until this is stopped, hopefully under the next administration.
    And Robert, that link is as scary as it gets. If the technology is being developed to obtain dna from fingerprints, then irises can’t be far behind.
    I think I need a drink.

  4. Apart from the price I have no problem with the idea. Ideally I’d like it to be a non-profit, research organisation looking to build up a database of human DNA.

    (My sister does research in the DNA field. I’m not completely clueless.)

  5. This is something interesting. I know that DNA can track a lot of stuff including your genes and your family genes but this will surely cost more considering that in order fo you to track down everything you will need to convinced a lot of your relatives which is not very advisable since they might have been dead already.But this is another breakthrough in science right?

  6. So do you you not urinate in the cup at the doctor for the same reason? Think of all the data you willing give your doctor and insurance company without a thought. Why would you not want to see your DNA? As you say, it is the “most fundamental element of your being”, so you would prefer to remain ignorant about the most fundamental element of your being? I think the knowledge you would gain about yourself, and your kids (maybe something you learn will save their lives one day) way outweighs the slim chance that there is some government conspiracy brewing to tap into you DNA to rule the world.

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