/ Health

Would you take a DNA test?

Are home ancestry kits a cheap way to discover your family’s past, or do they reveal your most personal information to third parties? I’m wondering if it’s worth taking a test.

Home ancestry tests are a bit of harmless fun, right? You spit in a tube and a few weeks later get to see the kaleidoscope of countries that make you who you are. Nothing to it.

The idea of taking an ancestry test appeals to me. Born in France and raised in Australia, I’d love to get a map of the world that neatly pinpoints all the different regions I could claim as my ancestral roots.

On top of looking at your ancestry, some DNA tests also screen for health conditions and claim they can tell you whether you’re at risk of developing certain conditions.

Is it worth getting a DNA test?

When we looked into DNA tests back in 2008, we weren’t convinced. In fact, we thought they were a bit of a risk to privacy.

Since then, 23andMe and GSK have agreed to share de-identified data to develop medicines. The NHS has also said it will offer paid-for DNA tests if patients agree to share their data.

Would you opt in to sharing your data for those purposes?

DNA test privacy concerns

While sci-fi Gattaca-style discrimination might never happen (fingers-crossed), it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that one day your DNA test results could make something like health insurance harder, or more expensive, to obtain. 

Would you be comfortable with data being used in that way in the future? I see the appeal but, for now, I think I’ll resist taking an ancestry test.

Would you trust a home DNA test company to keep your personal data private?
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Have you tried a home ancestry test?  If not, would you be willing to?  What do you think of the privacy implications?



There’s an element of having one’s fortune told here. Maybe DNA is clearer than the crystal ball, but knowing that bits of me are scattered round the globe doesn’t tell me much about my ancestors or help me find any of them. If a DNA test is used as part of a medical diagnosis I’d do it. It does seem that it has limited use here and only tells me who my parents and relatives are, not what’s wrong with me. I won’t be doing one any time soon, there are more important things to be getting on with.

Similarly I would do it for a medical diagnosis. As a biologist by training I would love to know how much Neanderthal I have in my past but not enough for me to actually do it!

If funding existed for it, I’d like everybody to get a DNA test for medical research/other, and also to demonstrate that no-one is pure Saxon, or Celt, or whatever, you name it, which would hopefully help curb xenophobia or worse sentiment.

I have no problem with the results of DNA testing being used for medical research but am concerned that this information could be used for commercial gain.

My late uncle collected information about our family history and gave me a copy. That was about 30 years ago and I have not got round to reading it yet.

kevin says:
17 May 2019

I’d be extremely careful to scrutinise the user agreement for these companies, since experience shows they are quite unscrupulous if there’s money to be made from your information.

I’d also advise caution even if they do not assume ownership of your DNA data, since, again, experience shows that such companies are often incompetent with their IT security, and, in any case, even with good IT security and data hygiene, once it’s in the ‘datasphere’, you can’t retract it.

The thing I have learnt this lunchtime – you can get your cat’s DNA tested. But you probably shouldn’t bother…