Rumor: People’s ‘private’ DNA information is easily found online

A new study shows that discovering private genetic material can be just a few clicks away.


UNCONFIRMED: That private DNA information is available to anyone with an Internet connection

The first step in finding out a person’s detailed genetic information may be as easy as opening an Internet browser. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and NPR, a study by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research has shown that determining the identities of people whose DNA information is posted online on various genealogy websites -- identities that are supposed to be private -- is possible by cross checking chromosome patterns with a person’s surname and other information.


Privacy concerns

The discovery was published in journal Science on Thursday. Researchers were able to discover the identities of nearly 50 people using anonymous DNA information publicly available online. The scientists, who didn’t identify the people whose genetic information they discovered or the precise method they used to obtain it, point out the obvious privacy concerns for people whose DNA could potentially be used by health insurers to deny coverage or by employers to discriminate against job candidates.

Find genealogy websites


Inspired by a 15-year-old

Whitehead Institute geneticist Yaniv Erlich who led the project was inspired to begin the research by a 15-year-old boy who used genetic information posted online in order to find his sperm-donor father. The boy was able to compare the pattern from his Y chromosome to the patterns of men who had posted their DNA data on a genealogy website. After finding several  patterns that matched his own, the boy was able to deduce his father’s last name and then, with some careful looking, was able to find his father. Erlich and his team parroted much of this process and was able to do the same with dozens more people.

Find info on the 1000 Genomes public DNA project



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