A popular DNA-testing company seems to be targeting true crime fans with a new pitch to let them share their genetic information with law enforcement so cops can catch violent criminals.
Two months ago, FamilyTreeDNA raised privacy concerns after BuzzFeed revealed the company had partnered with the FBI and given the agency access to the genealogy database. Law enforcement’s use of DNA databases has been widely known since last April when California officials revealed genealogy website information was instrumental in determining the identity of the Golden State Killer. But in that case, detectives used publicly shared raw genetic data on GEDmatch. The recent news about FamilyTreeDNA marked the first known time a home DNA test company had willingly shared private genetic information with law enforcement.
Several weeks later, FamilyTreeDNA changed their rules to allow customers to block the FBI from accessing their information. “Users now have the ability to opt out of matching with DNA relatives whose accounts are flagged as being created to identify the remains of a deceased individual or a perpetrator of a homicide or sexual assault,” the company said in a statement at the time.
But now the company seems to be embracing this partnership with law enforcement with their new campaign called, “Families Want Answers.”
The company plans to air a new advertisement this week in San Francisco that features Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted in 2002 and held captive for nine months before being rescued.
In the ad, Ed Smart makes a plea for people to share their DNA so they can help families who have lost a child. “When a loved one is a victim of a violent crime families want answers,” he says as the ad shows footage of a child’s shoe on a playground, crime scene tape, and parents embracing. “There is more DNA available at crime scenes than any other evidence. If you are one of the millions of people who have taken a DNA test your help can provide the missing link.”
FamilyTreeDNA did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for comment on whether the new ad campaign was a response to recent reporting on the company’s arrangement with FBI.
In a public statement, FamilyTreeDNA’s president and founder, Bennett Greenspan, seemed to appeal to both genealogy hobbyists and true crime fans. “The genealogy community has the ability to crowd-source crime solving,” Greenspan said. “If FamilyTreeDNA can help prevent violent crimes, save lives, or bring closure to families, then we feel the company has a moral responsibility to do so.”
The press release states that the company’s terms of service only allow law enforcement to receive private customer information through a “valid legal process such as a subpoena or a search warrant.”
FamilyTreeDNA users may have a “moral responsibility” to decide if they want to opt out of sharing their data with law enforcement or risk having their DNA narc on them or their family members.