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Test privacy implications before testing your DNA

Emily Valla, Idaho Better Business Bureau
Emily Valla, Idaho Better Business Bureau

This holiday season, many families are using the opportunity to be together to learn a little more about their ancestors. At-home DNA test kits are on many gift lists this year, either out of curiosity of family history, or perhaps to get an idea of genetic markers for medical conditions.

While the concept is intriguing, be aware the information potentially revealed in these tests can be very private. So, with that in mind, the Federal Trade Commission is urging consumers to be savvy in using these kits.

Most DNA tests work by swabbing the participant’s cheek, sending off a sample and waiting for the report to come back. Even if you aren’t too concerned about your personal privacy, consider the other families members potentially affected.

Compare tests and companies before you buy. We often say this, and it is essential anytime personal information is out there: Read privacy policies. Even if it’s a long list, it is crucial to know what a company is doing with your personal information.

The FTC suggests, “Rather than just clicking ‘I accept,’ take the time to understand how your health, genetic, and other sensitive information will be used and shared. Hold off on buying a kit until you have a clear picture of the company’s practices.”

Research companies online and with the Better Business Bureau. Find out what experiences others have had, and learn how accurate or specific the test is. Read reviews on the business before you buy. What’s the recourse if you aren’t satisfied with your experience?

Examine what happens to your information once your test is complete. Does your information go to a database? Is it public? When signing up, read each line carefully and look at what boxes are checked. The FTC reminds consumers that default settings aren’t typically the most private, and you may want to opt out of many options at the start.

Know there is risk involved when personal information is shared.

“Hacks happen. Before deciding to use a DNA test kit, reflect on your personal approach to the risk of unauthorized access that accompanies the use of any online service (or, for that matter, any brick-and-mortar business) that maintains sensitive information about you,” writes Lesley Fair of the FTC.

If you do run into issues with a genetic testing company, report it. You can let the FTC know on its website and file a complaint with the BBB.

Emily Valla, emily.valla@thebbb.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.

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