Tag: Privacy

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.

Where's the case for data retention?

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt announced today that he thinks the greatest danger to people’s privacy is not from leaks of people’s data as happened earlier this week to AOL users but rather from government snooping.

I have always worried the query stream is a fertile ground for governments to snoop on the people.

This is a very valid argument and it has to be said that it is definitely in Google’s best economic interest to ensure that no-one can access their massive databases of saved searches. The same cannot be said for Irish ISPs and telcos who are being tasked with keeping three years of log files on all their customers. There is almost no incentive for them to secure this data – it is nothing but a dead cost for them and one they wish would go away. This data will more than likely be leaked and sold time and time again by everyone from crooked Gardaí (the Irish police) to minimum wage call centre employees.

Having said that no lock is uncrackable and if someone wants to get at Google’s databases badly enough, they will find a way. The easiest way to thwart this is not to retain the data!