Stuart Leavenworth reports:
For DNA testing companies, the genetic code that customers pay to have analysed is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only do these companies profit from DNA analysis, but they stand to make money for decades more marketing people’s data to the highest bidders.
Ancestry, which controls a database of more than 5 million DNA samples, is one of the companies marketing its genetic storehouse. The Utah-based company has no formal policy on what partnerships it will or will not pursue, but company officials say they’d never risk a collaboration that could be viewed as exploitative. “We only want to do research totally on the up and up,” says Eric Heath, chief privacy officer for Ancestry.
But when customers sign-up to have their data shared with research partners of Ancestry, 23andMe and other companies, they are taking a leap of faith. Ancestry’s main research partner is a Google subsidiary named Calico, which researches therapies aimed at extending the human lifespan. Unlike public institutions, California-based Calico discloses little about its DNA work, and many view it as a vanity project for Silicon Valley billionaires seeking breakthroughs to extend their own lives.
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