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Avast Blog_Tips & Advices: Are your genes for sale?
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You want to know your ancestry … but is it worth sharing your genetic code with the world?

There’s big business in genealogy. Whether it’s a family tree that goes straight up and down like a mighty oak, or stretches east and west into dozens of brambles, people want to know their genetic makeup. Family history site boasts 20 million members. 23andMe has a database of over 5 million members, and MyHeritage has approximately 2.5 million. That’s more than 27.5 million people, and that’s only counting three brands out of 50+ on the market. MIT Technology Review estimates that if the current level of public interest continues, commercial genetic databases will hold the info of 100 million people by 2021.

Because our genetic codes reveal so much, the associated risks and rewards are tremendous. Discovering our ancestry is only one revelation offered by today’s genealogy services. We can also choose to find family, learn which traits we’ve inherited, and discover if we’re predisposed to Alzheimer’s, gene mutations that can lead to cancer, diabetes, and more. In exchange for $100-$200 and some saliva, we get a more detailed picture of who we are – and open a Pandora’s box of self-discovery.

The risks arise when we look at the security these companies are using. Our genetic data is valuable to organizations including law enforcement, pharmaceutical labs, and app developers.

Law enforcement — Investigative genealogy can solve cases, such as the infamous Golden State Killer case, which went unsolved for decades until the FBI used a public genealogy database in April 2018 to find a distant relative that led to the arrest of the killer.

Pharmaceutical labs — 23andMe says 80% of their customers opt in to allow their data to be used for research programs. Some of these genealogy companies have formed partnerships with drug developers, such as the deal 23andMe has with GlaxoSmithKline and the collaboration between Ancestry and Google spin-off Calico.

App developers — With your genetic data, software developers can design more personalized services within their fitness and wellness apps, tailoring their products to target biological needs.

Some may not mind if their personal info is used toward any of these applications, while others might see it as a gross violation of privacy. In all the excitement of learning about ourselves, many of us forget that these are not healthcare services but money-making businesses selling a product. After they’ve provided what we’ve requested and if we don’t want our genetic data to be used by others, it is our right to delete our data from their system. Otherwise, we risk becoming part of a data bank of genetic info. In a Forbes article on the subject, medical privacy expert Nicole Martin warns,

If leaked, this data could cause people to be genetically discriminated against by employers, insurance companies, banks, etc…. Since there is no real established precedent for DNA data, there are many issues that could come if your data is leaked and no laws to truly protect you at the moment.

Our safety is in our own hands, so let’s get specific. According to a Consumer Reports investigation, here’s how to erase your info from the three biggest genealogy services. 
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