The DNA Database

A friend and I were talking today about the Vault 7 Wikileaks dump. Here’s an interesting article about it. We have both come to the conclusion that not much in the dump has been surprising. Really, people hacked into Xbox and PlayStation4 cameras within weeks (probably days) of their release. In fact, there are people who have successfully turned their XBox One into a baby monitor, complete with motion sensor and live broadcast. To find out the CIA has been using the hot microphones and hot cameras behind the scenes is anticlimactic and hardly a revelation.

This led us onto the topic of Big Data. It’s fascinating that within a generation we went from not talking about our salaries or health in polite conversation to sharing everything with complete strangers online. The people who are “shocked” when companies like Facebook actually use the data they’ve been giving them for free, in return for using their service for free, need to realize they are living in a capitalist society still. This is not a utopian Star Trek galaxy wherein companies can First, Do No Evil. If you tell Facebook and FourSquare and Yelp and Google Maps and Instagram and Apple (via the photo geotagging in your iPhone) that you love Caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks, then you waive the right to be surprised when Starbucks starts sending you coupons or your home assistant starts suggesting you get up a bit earlier tomorrow so you have time to visit the new Starbucks in your neighbourhood before work.

In fact, even if you are somewhat privacy-concious, you could be interested in one of these DNA test services. Take AncestryDNA.ca (Ancestry.com), for example. How interesting it would be to find out your particular shitmix of ancestry! Is there an Egyptian hiding in your tree? A Latino? A Viking? How fun! Let’s all get tested! Let’s read first, to make sure we aren’t getting taken advantage of by Big Data again.

Their privacy statement, in brief, as detailed on their webpage:

“We store your DNA test results and DNA sample without your name or other common identifying information. You own your DNA data. At any time, you can choose to download raw DNA data, have us delete your DNA test results as described in the AncestryDNA Privacy Statement, or have us destroy your physical DNA saliva sample. We do not share with third parties your name or other common identifying information linked to your genetic data, except as legally required or with your explicit consent”

Farther up the page, this is listed as a benefit to using their system:

“Connect with relatives you never knew you had. Once you’ve taken your test, we’ll search our global network of AncestryDNA members and identify the people who share your DNA.”

So, which is it? Are the tests stored WITHOUT names or identifiers? No, that would be silly and completely useless for Big Data purposes! In fact, they will SHARE WITH YOU and EVERYONE ELSE who you share DNA with! This can’t be in a generic way, either, because they suggest you can connect with new relatives.

If you think the CIA, CSIS, and whoever else is interested doesn’t have their paws on these DNA databases, then you need to think a bit harder. In fact, wouldn’t it be amazing if we climb a bit further up the conspiracy tree and posit that the CIA actually invented these DNA search companies to build their own databases? The public is happily entering themselves and their loved ones into these databases and paying for it! The owner of Ancestry.com has databases in 30 countries so far.

Oh, look! Over 3million people have logged their DNA with the company to date and they plan to release an IPO this year. To get bogged down in details, European private equity firm Permira bought them in 2012 for $1.6billion. That was before they hit it big, though. In 2015 AncestryDNA partnered with Calico, Google/Alphabet’s health arm, to analyze the samples for genetic factors resulting in longer lifespans and, “focus its efforts to develop and commercialize any potential therapeutics that emerge from the analysis.” Then, in April of 2016, Silver Lake and GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, acquired large stakes in Ancestry in a deal that valued the company at $2.6 billion.”

Silver Lake and GIC are playing to win. They don’t play kids’ games. Silver Lake looks to have made about $5billion buying and selling Skype, and GIC has made a tidy sum with Citigroup. That they are now involved, as are Alphabet, is an indicator that this DNA trend is huge. Also obvious is the fact that these databases are for sale to interested parties. Sure, your DNA details may not be announced to your neighbour next door, but that doesn’t mean Google, Facebook, various arms of government, and soon perhaps your health insurer have access to your most private of personal data.

Ten years ago I would have called my present self a bit of a sci fi nerd just for going down this rabbit hole. Now, though, this is looking more like postmodern fact than a quirky theory.

Happy Friday!

 

Bonus content:

AncestryDNA.com’s Privacy Statement includes:

We may share your personal information with Ancestry Group Companies so that they may use your personal information for the purposes described in this Privacy Statement, to provide the additional services of those Ancestry Group Companies to you, and/or for the purposes of connecting you to Users of the other websites operated by the Ancestry Group Companies. The Ancestry Group Companies services and websites are subject to similar privacy statements, which you should review. Additionally, as our business continues to grow and change, we might restructure, buy, or sell subsidiaries or business units. In these transactions, customer information is often one of the transferred assets, remaining subject to promises made in then prevailing privacy statements. Also, in the event that AncestryDNA, or substantially all of its assets or stock are acquired, transferred, disposed of (in whole or part and including in connection with any insolvency or similar proceedings), personal information will as a matter of course be one of the transferred assets.

Their Terms and Conditions includes:

By submitting DNA to AncestryDNA, you grant AncestryDNA and the Ancestry Group Companies a perpetual, royalty-free, world-wide, transferable license to use your DNA, and any DNA you submit for any person from whom you obtained legal authorization as described in this Agreement, and to use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered subject to the terms and conditions of this Agreement and the Privacy Statement. You hereby release AncestryDNA from any and all claims, liens, demands, actions or suits in connection with the DNA sample, the test or results thereof, including, without limitation, errors, omissions, claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity, emotional distress or economic loss. This license continues even if you stop using the Website or the Services.

Also: did you notice where they said “Except as legally required” above? Yes, I did too. What exactly does that mean? Can these results be subpoenaed? Huh! Interesting to think about, n’est pas?

Feel better now?

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