What to look for in a DNA test kit
In addition to the criteria above (Reference database size, price, depth and detail provided, and ease of family matching), people looking to purchase a DNA test kit should consider:
Whether you want ancestry, health, and/or traits information: There are pros and cons to taking a test that includes all three types of genetic information, and some people may prefer not to know whether or not they have an increased risk of disease, for example. Others might want as much information as possible about their health, family roots, and genetic traits.
Access to raw data: If you plan to upload your genetic data to another site to maximize family matches and build your family tree, you’ll want to check whether or not you can download your raw data after getting your test results.
Subscription fees: Some DNA test kit companies require additional subscription fees to unlock certain features, particularly around health reports and historical records used for genealogy. Before you buy a test kit, check what’s included in the test price and whether or not you’ll need any additional subscriptions to use the test as planned.
Usually, the reason behind keeping your DNA sample on hand is so that your DNA can be retested if more advanced testing methods become available in the future.
A note on data privacy concerns
There’s only so much you can control when it comes to protecting your genetic data, according to Abiodun. “For people who say, ‘I don’t want my data out there’: Your data is out there.”
If anyone you share DNA with has been tested, part of your DNA is already in the database. “The floodgates are open, and millions of people have tested. I’m not saying this to be scary, but to be realistic,” Abiodun added.
It’s worth noting, though, that once you receive your results, you can delete your genetic data from a given database at any time.
As far as consenting to how your data can be shared, there’s been a lot of talk in the past several years about ensuring your genetic data is kept private after using DNA test kits. Note that some major companies do sell your genetic analysis (anonymously) to places like pharmaceutical companies.
“That policy will outline who it might share your data with, and what your rights are,” Brianne Kirkpatrick explained.
If you’re wondering why privacy is so important, here are a few of the main issues:
Profiting from health data: “For some of the big companies like 23andMe, it’s clear that providing health information to consumers was always a goal, but identifying a genetic connection with diseases often requires looking at DNA from a very large number of people,” Rick W. A. Smith, Ph.D, an assistant professor at George Mason University and biocultural anthropologist who studies how colonialism and imperialism in the Americas impact people’s DNA, told Insider.
We’re beginning to see genetic ancestry companies sign deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars with pharmaceutical companies, Smith added. “I think it is important that more people understand that when they pay for a genetic ancestry test and consent to certain types of research, their data can be used to generate massive profits for these companies.”
Some people might be totally comfortable with companies using their genetic data to develop new drugs or do other types of medical research. After all, your genetic information might contribute to the “greater good” in this way. But others may not want massive corporations to profit from their DNA, which is completely understandable.
“Once a consumer uploads their data to a third-party website like this, the expectation of privacy is basically out the window,” Lauren Jeffries, DO, a geneticist at Yale Medicine, told Insider.
Data security: Like almost any other business that stores information in a database, it’s possible that DNA testing companies could be hacked, Jeffries also pointed out. Hackers having access to your name, billing info, and genetic information is potentially a lot more worrying than having your anonymized data shared with pharmaceutical companies.
There’s no evidence that DNA testing companies are particularly vulnerable to hacking, and many mention the safeguards they have in place, but it’s a risk people should be aware of before submitting their DNA test sample. Be wary of a brand that doesn’t mention its approach to data security at all.