Don’t Get Your Loved Ones DNA Test Kits for The Holidays
by Kate Brunotts
With the holidays in full swing, it’s time for me to find the perfect gift for my uncle I haven’t seen in a year and a half. And with my weak imagination, I’ve been two steps away from ordering a home DNA test kit.
As a personal narcissist, I can’t think of a better gift idea. Why waste time on something that my uncle may or may not be interested in? We all love learning more about ourselves, so why not order the kit and be done with it?
In my research, I’ve found a couple of sketchy factors that give me pause about these kits. Not to mention, according to the crowdsourced reviews on Trustpilot.com, 23andme doesn’t appear to have a lot of happy customers: 70% of reviewers rated the kits as below average in terms of value.
So, what makes these kits so wonky? Here a few reasons why I’ve opted to stay away from home DNA test kits.
What Do These Kits Actually Test?
As it turns out, these kits can often be more fear-inducing than helpful. Though DNA test kits are more geared towards ancestral knowledge than health risks, a number of home DNA test kit companies such as 23andme offer kits catered exclusively for some sort of medical insight.
Unlike thorough clinical testing, DNA test uses mostly relative algorithms to determine patterns in your genome. This means that the kits have to compare your DNA with information that they already have in order to make a connection.
Therefore, your perceived risk of cystic fibrosis is only as good as the sample size of reference genomes. Moreover, patterns are not accurate, and the presence of a mutation does not guarantee a future disorder or illness.
What these tests do is largely oversimplify all the factors that play into one’s personal health. Though, I’m sure I would be pretty worried if I got back my home DNA results with high percentage risks for a number of diseases.
Arguably, DNA tests could allow you to proactively protect yourself by making you aware of your potential health risks. However, if you’re going to a clinical licensed doctor on a regular basis, you’re likely to receive much more accurate assertions about the future of your health.
In my opinion, sometimes ignorance is bliss. Especially if it means not worrying about a disease that doesn’t prose a true threat in the first place.
Perhaps the biggest reason people stay away from these kits is the huge privacy concern. Though users do have an option to opt out of sharing their data, most do not. I suspect that this is partially due to the “opt-in” being rebranded as a “DNA Relative Finder”.
The opt-outs of data are there, but they certainly aren’t super clear to the average home DNA test kit user.
DNA test kits partner with huge pharmaceutical companies, like GSK , so that the company can develop new products. 23andme has also partnered with P&G beauty, who crafts common household products like Tide detergent, Pampers diapers, Puffs Tissues, Pantene Shampoo, ClearBlue Pregnancy tests, etc.
Why Should You Care?
For a lot of us, sharing personal data doesn’t seem to be that bad. After all, we regularly share tons of personal information with social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, and there seems to be little negative consequences for doing so.
Outside how you feel morally, I just feel like home DNA kits are ripping you off. For an upwards of $100, you get a report of genetic correlations that may or may not be indicative of anything clinically useful. On top of that, the company continues to profit and indirectly develop more powerful consumer goods using your data shared with their valued “research partners.”
If anything’s for sure, your most personal data is worth a lot more than than a couple of nicely printed graphics. 23andme isn’t the problem, it’s our constant cultivation of consumers as products.
There are plenty of ways to learn about your past and ancestral history without subjecting yourself to one of these somewhat problematic home DNA test kits. Invest in a gift that is truly a present for your participant, not just means for mass data collection.