Think Before You Spit: Privacy Issues From DNA Testing Kits

DNA testing kits have become the hot new product over the past few years. It's easy to understand why. The appeal of learning about your ancestry - the countries your forebearers came from, heritage from unexpected parts of the world - is obvious.

But you may be signing up for a lot more than you bargained for when you send your saliva sample to one of these companies, says attorney Loni Coombs.

"Think before you spit," she says.


Results from DNA companies are packaged in a way that make them look definitive, but they're in fact more limited than they might appear. "Keep in mind that this is not a precise science they way they're doing it," Coombs says. "When you're getting your ancestry, rather than being a precise answer, it's more like a probability."

Medical Conditions

Many DNA testing companies also include results that may indicate you're predisposed to certain medical conditions. The same level of caution should be used when taking these indicators as concrete facts. "Get a second opinion before you get your medical treatment," Coombs said.


It's hard to imagine a more private thing than your DNA. It's literally what you're made of. But your results may not be as secure after you've sent them in as you'd hope. "Each one of these companies has a privacy policy, but they're not ironclad. There's no regulations in place for consequences in case they violate it." Also, HIPPA laws, which bar doctors from sharing your medical information, do not apply to DNA companies.

Law Enforcement

Police garnered a lot of headlines when they used DNA test results to track down a man suspected of being the Golden State Killer more than 30 years after a string of murders in California. But law enforcement isn't limiting its use of results from testing companies to serial killers. "They've solved several crimes using DNA from a crime scene and finding matches in these DNA databases," Coombs said. Most companies are opposed to sharing their data with the police, but the disputes have sometimes gone to court, with the judge ruling in favor of law enforcement.

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