DNA 🧬 story…
Imagine that you submit your DNA years ago to ancestry.com site before it was popular and you just ignore it. It sits there like aging wine. You tire of the endless notifications from distant cousin matches who you have no idea how you are related. No one has time for this stuff, constant alerts interrupting the day, when real life is in front of us.
Then one day, you see an email alert from someone trying to reach you because you have a very close match, like a first cousin match.
Most people might be excited. Who is this person? Do I know him or her?
But wait, this person is claiming to be possibly a sibling.
Is this possible? Well, yes, possible, but probable? It all depends on the facts and data we have access to. For the past few days, I’ve had to spend time thinking through scenarios. For me, former law enforcement and current analyst, I cannot accept things at face value. I’m skeptical and inquisitive to a flaw.
Questions that come to mind:
- Are these skeletons in the closet you want to research?
- Do you really want to know the answer to how this stranger is related to you?
- Will it change your life knowing? Or does it just tweak the history of you slightly?
- How will this impact others in your family? Are they prepared for new information?
These are the questions you need to ask yourself once you put your DNA out there, like I have. You need to prepare yourself for truths you may not be ready to digest.
There is another side of this story as well.
- What if this is a hacked account?
What if a complete stranger was able to take over another DNA account that was already matched and vetted as a first cousin (actually a nephew), and now that account is missing, but this new one shows up in its place? AND, the circumstances of the first account are odd, in that an ex-wife created and is pissed that her husband left her for another woman…Does that change the facts or the story? Does it seed doubt in the voracity of the DNA results online, which is all a black box to us?
The reality is that we put too much trust in technology to answer questions, as if there is some magical oracle. The hard fact is that we have no way of knowing whether our data is secure, or whether DNA matches are in fact accurate or real. The online DNA databases are clogged with DNA abandoned by users who probably never created their own accounts. I know for a fact, my nephew never created his own account and let his ex-wife handle this as part of some game or something. The chain of custody for his own DNA records is lost by him in his own carelessness. He has no children with this other woman and she has absolutely no reason to have any genealogical interest in his DNA for family history. In addition, AncestryDNA and Ancestry.com should never allow someone else to submit another person’s DNA to the website.
AncestryDNA (Ancestry.com) is not the only site to mention, Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), one of the originals for me, has the same potential issue. I am not familiar with 23 and Me, but I suppose they could face the same issues of account hacking and DNA hacking by bad actors. We have to ask our selves as consumers, is it really safe for us to put our DNA out there? I’m not convinced anymore at all. I have been active for over ten years and now seeing the nefarious activity and possibilities of bad actors really screwing this all up.
By the way, on FTDNA site, which I had not logged in for a year or more, they changed their privacy to account for sharing DNA with law enforcement, which I did not know till the writing of this post.
At one point in my life, seeking answers for my family tree seemed important to me and I could spend hours researching. However now, it just seems like more an invasion of privacy.
For reference, watch this DNA Hacking video for additional thoughts:
My Heritage Data Breach:
New York Times article on sharing DNA and creation of “fake” accounts using DNA evidence to find relatives.
And here is a screen shot of an inquiry to Ancestry.com on whether it is possible for someone to change an account name with someone else’s DNA…it is possible.