Companies are advertising at-home DNA test kits that promise intriguing insights into your past (“Where did my forebears come from?”) – and your future (“Do I have the genetic markers for certain medical conditions?”). If you’re thinking about buying a kit for yourself or a family member, the FTC has advice about protecting the privacy of the sensitive information that DNA tests reveal.
Although most tests require just a swab of the cheek, that tiny sample can disclose the biological building blocks of what makes you you. The data can be very enlightening personally, but a major concern for consumers should be who else could have access to information about your heritage and your health. If you’re thinking about buying an at-home DNA test kit, you owe it to yourself – and to family members who could be affected – to investigate the options thoroughly.
Comparison shop about privacy. A number of companies offer similar services, but price and performance are only two of the comparisons you should draw before making a purchase. The other key comparison is privacy. Scrutinize each company’s website for details about what they do with your personal data. Rather than just clicking “I accept,” take the time to understand how your health, genetic, and other sensitive information will be used and shared. Hold off on buying a kit until you have a clear picture of the company’s practices.
Choose your account options carefully. Most testing companies offer an array of options about how public – or how protected – users want to keep their personal information. Will your profile be available to others online? Can users send you personal messages? A company’s out-of-the-box defaults often aren’t the most private options, so it’s unwise simply to accept a site’s automatic settings. A more prudent approach to consider is to select more protective options initially and revisit your choices once you’ve become familiar with how the site operates.
Recognize the risks. Hacks happen. Before deciding to use a DNA test kit, reflect on your personal approach to the risk of unauthorized access that accompanies the use of any online service (or, for that matter, any brick-and-mortar business) that maintains sensitive information about you.
Report your concerns. If you think a genetic testing company isn’t living up to its promises, let the FTC know. We’ve brought dozens of cases challenging deceptive or unfair practices related to consumer privacy and data security – including a settlement with a business that sold products based on at-home genetic testing, but allegedly failed to provide reasonable security for consumers’ personal information.
Giving a test kit as a gift? Print this post for the recipient and share other consumer information from FTC about DNA test kits.