The creepy truth behind determining your family's heritage through AncestryDNA
Commercials tell consumers only what the company wants them to know. But when it comes to Ancestry.com's 'most advanced' DNA test, the TV advertisements have always left me scratching my head.
For $99, the AncestryDNA kit can unlock "deeply hidden answers in your family lines," according to the company's website. But what's the process behind determining someone's ethnic background and are these tests even accurate?
Based on AncestryDNA's description and one writer's firsthand experience with the process, nothing about the test should be considered an exact science, as the subsequent results represent rough estimates of the given subject's familial history as compared to the markers from others within the Ancestry.com system.
"By looking at the DNA of people with long histories in a single place, we determine genetic signatures for people who came from particular regions," as stated on the company's website. "Your AncestryDNA test looks for those signatures in your DNA and uses them to help predict where your ancestors once lived."
Customers need only send in the saliva collection tube that comes with the kit in order to gain insight into their ethnicity. From this process, AncestryDNA can also distinguish genetic markers that might signal links to both close and distant relatives within its database. Those who've subscribed to Ancestry.com can also link their family tree so they may compare their connections to those found on their DNA match's family trees, too.
Yet, while the entire concept seems rather innocent, albeit vague, there might be more at stake than meets the eye.
Winston writes that there are three significant provisions in AncestryDNA's disclaimer to consider on behalf of yourself and your genetic relatives: (1) the perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide license to use your DNA; (2) the warning that DNA information may be used against “you or a genetic relative”; and (3) your waiver of legal rights. (For an in-depth analysis about what this means for customers, read Winston's article in its entirety here.)
"Customers must understand that turning over their DNA means a loss of complete ownership and control," Winston writes. "Ancestry.com customers should also know they’re giving up the genetic privacy of themselves and their relatives."
Beyond an invasion of privacy, Ancestry.com appears to be out to steal its customers' rights entirely—and these unsuspecting individuals don't seem to gain much information in return. While it's an intriguing concept, the short-term value behind learning about your potential ancestors just doesn't seem worth the long-term loss of your rights.
My suggestion? Talk to your relatives, if possible. They have countless stories to share. Plus, even if their accounts aren't 100 percent accurate, they'll still likely be right on par with AncestryDNA's estimates, anyway—minus the personal and financial costs, of course.