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genetic testing, ancestry, privacy


Health Law and Policy | Law


Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is marketed as a tool to uncover ancestry and kin. Recent studies of actual and potential users have demonstrated that individuals’ responses to the use of these tests for these purposes are complex, with privacy, disruptive consequences, potential for misuse, and secondary use by law enforcement cited as potential concerns. We conducted six focus groups with a diverse sample of participants (n = 62) who were aware of but had not used direct-to-consumer genetic tests, in an effort to understand more about what people considering these tests think about the potential value, risks, and benefits of such testing, taking into account use by third parties, such as potential kin and law enforcement. Participants differed widely in the perceived value of direct-to-consumer genetic tests for ancestry and kinship information for their own lives, including the desirability of contact with previously unknown relatives. Some perceived ancestry testing as mere curiosity or entertainment, while others, particularly those who had gaps in their family history, few living relatives, or who were adopted, saw greater value. Concerns about intrusion into one’s life by purported kin and control of data were widespread, with many participants expressing concern about secondary uses of data that could harm users or their families. The use of direct-to-consumer genetic tests data for forensic genealogy elicited a particularly wide array of reactions, both spontaneously and in response to specific discussion prompts, mirroring the current public debate about law enforcement access to such data. The themes uncovered through our investigation warrant specific attention in the continued development of the science, policy, and practice of commercial direct-to-consumer genetic testing.



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