Have Concerns About Privacy Caught Up With At-Home DNA Testing Kit Companies?

I just took a DNA test; it turns out, I’m 100% data-driven.

While DNA tests topped charts in 2019 with a featured line in Lizzo’s hit song Truth Hurts, sales of DNA testing kits, such as those sold by 23andMe and Ancestry DNA, appeared to slow significantly this past holiday season based on M Science’s analysis.

In recent years, these companies have attempted to reach outside the genealogically minded market by expanding their offerings to “genetic health risk reports” that use genetic markers to assess predisposition to hereditary conditions such as Alzheimer’s and type-2 diabetesConcerns over privacy, however, may be overshadowing the promise of genetically driven health reports with actionable insights.

Although 23andMe reported that personally-identifying information would not be shared, mid-2018’s announcement of a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline was met with shock and surprise by many customers who did not realize that their data would be shared with pharmaceutical companies.

This backlash, along with the DNA-driven downfall of the Golden State Killer and December 2019 report that the Pentagon has discouraged defense personnel from purchasing home DNA tests, underscores growing national awareness and concerns about not only privacy and ownership of digital data but of genetic data as well.

While it’s difficult to judge intent, M Science’s analysis indicates a clear picture: fewer people appear to have bought DNA kits this past Black Friday, especially from direct-to-consumer channels. Third-party sales and general web interest in these companies have also been seen to decline significantly in M Science’s analysis (based on data sources available to M Science).

As of 2019, 23andMe and Ancestry DNA have reported that the companies have over 10 and 15 million customers, respectively. Although most customers will only ever need to buy one DNA kit in their lifetime, the addressable market for these kits could potentially be anyone with a genome. While we are still far away from a GATTACA-style, genetically-engineered future, it seems certain that DNA testing (and accompanying debates) will only continue to gain relevance as the technologies progress.

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