Some people hesitate about buying a DNA kit from Ancestry.com because of concerns that Ancestry may sell your DNA.
It’s true that Ancestry.com participates in research projects that may have commercial benefits to the company e.g. the development of drugs for healthcare.
However, your DNA is not included unless you consent to participate. If you consent, your results are summarized and anonymized i.e. no personal information is shared outside Ancestry.com.
Want to know more? Read on…
Does Ancestry Sell Your DNA?
Ancestry sells or shares aggregated anonymized DNA data for research projects that include aging, population migration, and disease prevention.
Your DNA results are only included in research projects if you consent to participate. All identifying information is stripped from the data.
Ancestry.com has collaborated with both not-for-profit and commercial research partners.
An example of a not-for-profit is the National Marrow Donor Program (in the United States).
The company has also provided anonymized DNA data to commercial firms involved in health research.
Some people don’t like companies selling DNA data like this. However, all participation is strictly by customer consent.
I’ll describe the commercial and not-for-profit partners in more detail in the next section.
What does “anonymized” actually mean?
You’ll see the term “anonymized” in the Ancestry.com privacy policies and statements. What does that actually mean?
The third-party researchers want a large volume of similar DNA data for analysis. The accuracy of their research improves with the size of the data set.
They approach Ancestry with requests that look something like this:
Provide summarized anonymized DNA from the 6th chromosome pair of 20,000 samples that are mostly West European.
If you choose to participate in the research projects, your DNA results are assigned a unique code. Then your data is thrown into the hopper with the rest of participating Ancestry customers.
Who Does Ancestry Sell Or Share DNA With?
Ancestry.com is involved with a lot fewer third-party research projects than 23andMe.com. You can check out my article on how 23andMe sells or shares DNA.
You’ll find the list of Ancestry’s projects here. I’ll give a quick summary in this section.
Calico Life Sciences
Ancestry agreed on a commercial partnership with this Google-funded biotechnology start-up in 2015.
The research focus was on aging and the human lifespan.
Stanford University School Of Medicine
Ancestry.com collaborated with Stanford University to research how to estimate an individual’s likelihood of having a disease or health condition.
This is known as polygenic risk scoring.
University Of Utah
The company collaborates with the University Of Utah to study how migration patterns surface in our DNA.
I assume that this feeds back into general improvements to their ethnicity algorithms.
National Marrow Donor Program
I mentioned this one already. Ancestry.com collaborated with this not-for-profit to study how genetic ethnicity correlates with self-reported ethnicity.
It’s understandable how this information is very important to the donor program.
COVID-19 Research Study
This is the latest collaboration. It’s an international scientific project that is researching vaccines for the disease.
How To Check If You Consent For Your DNA To Be Shared
Ancestry.com has an umbrella label for all its research projects. It’s called the Ancestry Human Diversity Project.
If you consent to participate in this overall project, then your DNA results can be anonymized and shared with whoever Ancestry.com collaborates with.
You can remove your consent at any time. But how do you know if you’ve consented or not? Follow these steps!
Step 1: Choose “Account Settings” from the drop-down menu under your account name.
Step 2: Choose “DNA” from the list of settings in the left pane.
The DNA Settings page is lengthy and the section you want is down the page.
So scroll on down until you find the “Research Consent” section.
When you expand this section, this is what you’ll see if you haven’t consented.
If you want to opt in, then you can tick the box and click the button.
Does Ancestry Sell Data To Insurance Companies?
I think this is the big concern for people thinking about getting a DNA test to research ancestry and family history.
The first worry is that their results will be sold to insurance companies. The second worry is that the insurance companies will use DNA results to offer or decline health cover.
I’ll quote them in full (this appears in several places on the website).
Ancestry does not share your Genetic Information with third-party marketers, insurance companies, or employers.Ancestry privacy statement
Laws Protecting You From Insurance Companies
The United States passed the GINA Act in 2008. This is the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act.
The Act makes it illegal for insurance companies (and others) to discriminate against you based on your genetic information.
This law is not perfect, and there are scenarios that it doesn’t cover. And you may be wondering – what if a political party wanted to change the laws to remove your protection?
I don’t live in the United States so this doesn’t keep me up at night. I simply don’t believe that this scenario would be allowed in my country.
And if a local political party wanted to allow this to happen – well, I have a vote.
If you’re American, then so do you. I do think it’s important to keep your eyes on the direction of your political parties.
Does Ancestry Give Your DNA To Law Enforcement?
Some companies encourage law enforcement to use their DNA databases to assist criminal investigations.
Ancestry is not one of these proponents. The company actively discourages the use of its services for law enforcement purposes.
However, the company must comply with legitimate requests backed by court orders.
Ancestry publishes information about how many of these requests that they get. It’s a very low number. In fact, there were no requests for DNA in the first half of 2021.
You can get the report here.
Does Ancestry Share Data With The Government?
This question pops up on Reddit forums. Some people seem worried about being cloned (they may also be wearing hats made of tinfoil).
For the record, I’ll say that Ancestry may share data with organizations that receive government funding.
I mentioned several universities in an earlier section on who Ancestry shares DNA with.
It’s possible that the academic research is partially funded from state coffers (I don’t actually know, and I don’t care enough to check!)
However, that doesn’t mean that the government can use your Ancestry DNA results against you. Your personal details are removed from the DNA data shared with third parties.
Are Your DNA And Data Safe On Ancestry?
Is it possible that hackers could steal your DNA information through a security breach?
Personally, I think this is a reasonable concern. I wrote about it in a general article about security breaches reported by DNA companies in 2020.
I’ll summarize one situation here.
Breach in 2020
Ancestry doesn’t own Family Tree Maker, the family tree software.
But they do allow the software to connect to the Ancestry.com website.
In 2020, MacKiev (the software owners) had to clean up a security issue that could affect their customers.
Ancestry also investigated and reported that their own systems hadn’t been breached.
But you can see that companies like Ancestry can be targeted. Hackers would probably be more interested in credit card data than DNA data.
How does Ancestry.com protect your data?
Several small companies offer DNA testing services. Personally, I steer clear of firms that I suspect can’t afford a proper security infrastructure.
But Ancestry is the market leader in this industry. They have the funds to invest into information security. So, what do they do?
There are two main defenses. First, your DNA data is encrypted in their database.
Second, your account information (and credit card details) are kept completely separate from the DNA records.
This means that if one area was breached, hackers can’t connect personally identifying information with DNA results.
How To Protect Your Privacy
I’ve written an in-depth article on whether you can do an Ancestry DNA test anonymously.
Although complete anonymity isn’t possible, the article is full of advice and tips on protecting your privacy with the company.