You are creating a genetic profile for your entire family…

…if you give away a genetic profile for yourself.  Elizabeth Joh (NYT) writes:

You may decide that the police should use your DNA profile without qualification and may even post your information online with that purpose in mind. But your DNA is also shared in part with your relatives. When you consent to genetic sleuthing, you are also exposing your siblings, parents, cousins, relatives you’ve never met and even future generations of your family.

Unless you are going to gain something very specific, I generally recommend that people should not give away their genetic information.


Yup. I don't even register my fingerprints. But one of my siblings already sent a sample to one of those DNA firms, 23andMe or or whoever, so that's the end of my genetic privacy.

Possibly not, though that too would be the result of your (or a sibling's) genetic privacy being removed.

As noted here - 'The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (Hfea) has expressed alarm about the ease with which users of such sites can uncover the names of sperm and egg donors, including those who chose to donate anonymously, and their other offspring.

Board members called for the sites to do more to inform users about the potentially unwelcome consequences of tracing their genetic relatives and where they can get counselling about such discoveries.'

Unfortunately, after searching a bit, I could not find a link to some research that was more or less suppressed a couple of decades ago - my memory is that roughly 10% of the people in a British village did not have the same parents as claimed. And I know, from someone decades ago, a case where the daughter of a then 15 year old was brought up by her grandparents as the sister of her mother - there are lots of such scenarios which will be brought to light.

No - false paternity rates are more like 1%;

That was the research involving one town - and it really surprised the researchers at the time. More searching does not help much - it was at the dawn of the Internet, and that point about being suppressed was part of the discussion involving ethics in providing information that might lead to unintended problems - such as naming the town.

However, that case I personally know about does not involve 'false paternity' - it involves legal adoption, and that baby being brought up believing that a biological grandfather is actually a biological father - which is incorrect, of course.

From a link I did find, here is some further information - 'As laws regarding donor gametes change, children conceived under one set of rules may be in for a surprise. In Australia, for example, a law that came into effect on July 1, 2006, allows a sperm donor to apply for identifying information on adult children conceived from his sperm. A news report comments that “some Queenslanders may be contacted by parents they didn't know about,” and quotes legal expert Derek Morgan's estimate that as many as seventy per cent of parents who procreate through assisted conception do not tell their children (, p. 52).'

It is a good link to read through, by the way, to get some idea of how broad the issues are.

Particularly as it points out we are actually talking about families, not individuals - 'An early and ongoing challenge of genetic counseling is how counselors should handle unexpected collateral or “incidental” information. Of these challenges, perhaps the most disturbing is presented by an individual or family who come for counseling in order to discover their risk for a genetic disease, but where testing also reveals that their beliefs about their biological connections are not grounded in fact. The scenario of “misattributed” or “misidentified” paternity has variously been estimated to be true of anywhere from one to thirty percent of families (Lucassen and Parker, 2001 1033–1035 p. 1034), with the true number probably under ten percent (Bakalar, 2006.

Nice mindless doubling down there. No. The number is, indeed, less than 1% in every single study that has been conducted.

'The number is, indeed, less than 1% in every single study that has been conducted.'

And yet, false paternity is only a subset of the sort of the sort of information revealed, as pointed out, explicitly, several times.

Though it is not possible to get fixed numbers, the parents of a young woman adopting a daughter's child as their own is not exactly uncommon in the sense of that one case being unique - it used to be a socially acceptable way to handle such a situation, actually.

And note the citation about sperm donors (though the article notes that with increasing egg donations, this is better termed something along the lines of parenthood donors).

In neither case is there any question about false paternity, at least terms of the adults involved. However, the children are not told the truth about their parentage, which is then only later revealed to be false.

You may want to read the linked article. This focus on bastardry is extremely narrow when discussing the sort of information that genetic testing reveals compared to what people believed about their parentage. If it was not for the broader opening of adoption information over the past generation, genetic testing would have revealed a notably larger number of cases where people would have not actually known about their true parentage until seeing the results of such testing.

It will be a fun day when centralized DNA databases held by governments or corporations get leaked onto the internet. Unlike credit card numbers or even home addresses, you can't change your DNA.

After it leaks, what is supposed to happen?

ID thieves bioengineer themselves to match?

I would get sign off from our family's serial killer before proceeding.

99.9% of your DNA is already known.

Sequence an ape, and you get 99% of your DNA.

And its not DNA that will get you in trouble, but a mistaken identification, especial by an eye witness of a different culture who "looked you right in the eye".

Note, DNA provides traits that statistically predict body type and facial features, so that can get the equivalent of a bad eye witness identification.

DNA does not mean expression of gene associated traits, as RNA and "junk" DNA, plus hormones of both mother and child influence development as well.

The odds are probably higher that your dumped body will be identified by the DNA of relatives being known rather than your uncle being identified as a serial killer. Or your remains in a disaster.

And you can change the DNA you leave under some conditions. Get a bone marrow transplant.

Of course, if you have a doppelganger you rely on to take the fall for your rape murders, then I can see why you don't want any relative to get a DNA ancestry test. Police and prosecutors seem to fix on suspects regardless of the evidence. And if someone is convicted of your crime, you won't be based on the history of exonerations. Even DNA, pattern, and confessions fail to convince police and prosecutors that convictions based on zero physical evidence were incorrect. It merely spurs them to come up with increasingly complex theory of the crimes.

When the question first arose I had a "what's mine is mine" reaction, call it simple possessiveness, but years later I am closer to this.

It's not such a big deal, and a criminal justice system which is on net more accurate is a huge positive externality.

I may be an outlier here in that I will not be at all surprised, when my father dies, if a late-in-life second family shows up at the funeral. If so, if I speak to them for an hour or two, I will have spoken to them about as much as I have to my actual brothers in the last 30 years. And that will be it.

As it would be deeply out of character for him to die with many or any assets left, this marked possibility concerns me only insofar as I would prefer my mother be spared embarrassment. But even that concern has its limits: she knew what kind of man he was, and chose to live with it.

These revelations people fear - I don't get it. Just the same old, same old.

It will make the world less interesting in some ways, perhaps - less mystery - but it's hardly the predominant factor in that trend. For those of us who live mainly in the past, everything we're learning about the history of the species and the movements of people more than compensates.

Is it a coincidence that 23andMe was founded by the former wife of one of the co-founders of Google? Everything tech does is an invasion of privacy, from mining digital footprints to facial recognition to DNA. Well, not everything: rockets to Mars to get the Hell off this planet and find some privacy in outer space.

The name of this blog is a testament to small ball, exploring micro data to find a larger meaning. Tech is a testament to small ball, collecting, storing, and mining micro data that can be exploited for profit. America's industry used to be about creating the big things, monumental things, great leaps to great innovation. Tech and small ball have conquered America: tech is a black hole for capital, captor of not only investment but the brightest young minds, all in the pursuit of micro data, our micro data, that can be exploited for profit.

We are not the customers to be served by tech, we are the product to be exploited by tech. And we go along not only willingly but enthusiastically: we are a country with an acute case of Stockholm Syndrome.

At least 23andme is transparent about the limitations of their database:

"Our service is offered online, and as a result, we can’t precisely authenticate an individual’s identity when they use our service. In other words, we don’t have any means to “reliably connect” any particular DNA sample to an individual."

In plain language, it's possible to send for analysis a cotton swab with saliva along false contact info. So, the greatest challenge is not on the DNA analysis but on the simple task of making sure that the DNA data is matched to the right person (name, address, etc).

Well, yes. No one is getting convicted based on what has listed in their database. However if their database says you match a crime scene, you can expect to be a suspect.

As for Tyler's post, it's standard NYT fearmongering dreck. Remember, any tech that puts the correct people in prison is Deeply Problematical.

(As opposed to any tech that enables unlimited state surveillance -- that stuff is awesome!)

'No one is getting convicted based on what has listed in their database.'

Just arrested through using other services - 'Northern California authorities said Wednesday that they have cracked a 45-year-old murder case using the same publicly available DNA database that led to the arrest of alleged serial killer Joseph DeAngelo.'

Officers arrested John Arthur Getreu, 74, on suspicion of killing a 21-year-old Palo Alto woman in 1973, the Santa Clara County sheriff’s department spokesman Richard Glennon said.

Investigators were led to Getreu after recently submitting DNA evidence to the Virginia-based DNA technology company Parabon NanoLab, which uses the public genealogical database GEDmatch to generate a number of family trees connected to the sample.'

Suppose a genetic test allows me to extend my life by 5 years, or to reduce by chance of getting some disease by 50% (because I find out I'm at risk and make corresponding lifestyle changes). In exchange, every relative and descendent of mine will get caught if they commit a crime that leaves DNA evidence. Seems like a good trade most people would take.

What lifestyle change can be made after a DNA test that you cannot made today from "ignorance"? Sleep better, drink less alcohol, eat less, exercise more? What's the upside?

But yes, sleep better, drink less alcohol, eat less, exercise more as a basic template for health.

If you have the right DNA you might not have to be so obsessive about it and you'd be better off putting the energy into something else.

Privacy is defined by the technology of the time.

When you were born, your blood type was recorded, yet 100 years earlier this information was private because it was non-discoverable or hard to discover.

When you go into a store and use your credit card to make a purchase, the store camera will record your facial and body features and link it to the credit card.

Next time you walk into the store, the clerk will address you by your first name.

It is WAY too late for any white American. There are already enough relatives in these databases to find you and all your relatives.

SWPL: giving away their privacy

This is obvious #FakeNews. I am assured that all humans are impossibly complicated random assortments of genes that come out idiosyncratically with every birth.

That's true, but it's not the genes that's being coded, it's the codons within the genes, which have among families a certain fixed pattern.

Impossible. Next you'll tell me dog breeds exist.

Altruists appear to exist in the world, for example Jonas Salk.
For an altruist, it can make sense to sacrifice individually to benefit the public.
In this case, the cost individually (or to one's family) is arguably small, and the benefits to the public (better genetic research) are arguably slightly larger.

It is too late to prevent the spread of this data. Too much is already out there and the technology to gather it will only get cheaper and cheaper.
The only defense is political change. We need legislation that defines who is allowed to store this data, and incentives for whistleblowers.

I don't know, I've done it and it's been a net positive for both me and my family. I can see why some would be concerned, but I kind of think this falls into that "overblown" bucket that Tyler mentioned a while back in his "economic of privacy" post.

Folks give away private info about friends and family all the time.

Things learned from DNA:

1) A part of my family has recent (~200 ya) African heritage (i.e. likely slaves) despite no visible obvious traits. The amount this has distressed the more racist part of the family was worth the cost of the test.

2) The daughters of a second cousin who were adopted found us and we were able to connect father and daughters (likely the father will die soon).

3) A friend found out her father wasn't her genetic father, despite not being told this by her mother (who has passed).

4) Meeting many genetic relatives on 23 And Me I would have otherwise never met, especially given European ancestral roots of about 100 ya.

Seems rather against individual liberty - "Individuals should not do as they wish with their genetic data due to implications for related persons who did not consent to share that information".

Surely your sequences are your own and you can do what you like with them, without too much regard for other persons who share them?

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