Here's What You Need to Know Before You Buy a DNA Testing Kit

It’s amazing how much information there is hiding in one tiny globule of spit.

In 2003, scientists announced that they had, after more than a decade, completed sequencing* the human genome. In 2018, you can spit in a test tube and, for the same price as a pair of Apple Air Pods, find out a host of fascinating information about your ancestry and health.

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But there are things you should know before you spit: Namely that you’re you’re handing over access to extremely sensitive information about things including your health, personality, and family history. It’s all there in the fine print if you bother to read it: Testing companies can claim rights to your genetic information, allow third parties to access it, and simply by virtue of possessing it make your DNA vulnerable to hackers. (Gizmodo has an exhaustive rundown of those potential risks here.)

This isn’t because DNA testing companies like AncestryDNA or 23andMe are doing anything especially fishy. Sharing sensitive personal information is inherently risky. And the truth is, we likely don’t even fully understand what some of those risks are. It’s possible you could one day face employment or insurance discrimination, or even social stigma, based on your genes.

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We’re guessing you might not have thought about all this before you became one of the millions of people curious to find out what their DNA might say about them. And, as I explored in a recent feature, the accuracy of the information you get back from these companies is dubious. So we’ll leave you with one important piece of advice: Think before you spit!

*Really, they sequenced as much as they could based on the limits of modern science, but it was really never completely sequenced.

Senior Writer, Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

Scary, scary stuff, if you are a very scared person. Or if you are someone who wants to see all this data do some good, kind of exciting. I see gobs of data and I think of the power that data has to do good. Same with my Fitbit. Gobs of real time data on exercise intensity, heart rate, speeds, resting heart rate. Tie that to some easy randomized sampling for other data, we could have some real science around the impacts of movement and exercise that are not based on elite athletes. You can let fear freeze you as you contemplate the risks of the world around you or you can assess them, decide what you can accept and keep moving. Gizmodo is supposed to be about science. Sure caution, but maybe advocating for leveraging all this data to answer some questions might be more productive than fear mongering.