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Caveat emptor

July 8, 2020

Well, that’s just fucking bizarre.

I have never once ever considered doing a DNA test. I’ve always figured I know plenty about my east London family and their roots. And yet the other night, seemingly out of nowhere, I decided to Google DNA tests. (Had I just seen an ad on the telly? No, I really don’t think so.)

As I was doing so, I realised I really only know half my DNA story. If you’ve been reading this for a while, you’ll know my ne’er do well father was long gone before I was born, leaving behind him a ring and no forwarding address. I have one small black and white photo of him which my mum kept (I certainly do take after him) and know nothing other than his name was John, he was a lawyer and, before running out on her, he made her laugh. Oh, and he’s British. C’est tout.

Might it be interesting to find out a bit more about his genetic background? Yes, it might. Would I like to track him down? Unlikely I could, given that he’d be in his late nineties now and is no doubt dead, but, no, no interest in tracking the bastard down. (Oh, wait a minute, thanks to him, I’m technically the bastard, but never mind.) Like me, he was blonde. Perhaps there’s some Viking DNA in there. Mind you, that could just as easily be from my side (which is what I consider mum’s side of the family to be). Those Vikings did get about for a while there.

Yes, I thought. It might indeed be interesting.

So I looked at a couple of sites. Over a hundred dollars. Was I that interested? Maybe, but it could wait until the morning. I’d sleep on it.

Then I went to bed and started reading a new book.

The book was Fair Warning, the newest novel by Michael Connelly, one of my favourite mystery writers. Other than the fact that this was going to be the third novel featuring reporter Jack McEvoy as the protagonist, I knew nothing about the story. I don’t need to check Connelly plot lines. I know I am going to enjoy whatever he’s written.

A few chapters in it becomes apparent that a serial killer is profiling his victims via the DNA samples they’ve sent to a fictitious testing lab. As our intrepid reporter discovers, buried in the terms and conditions, which no one ever reads, is an agreement that DNA samples submitted can be used for research purposes. Not necessarily specified is that said research may be conducted by third parties.

I’ve just checked the 23andme terms and conditions. There it is:

You understand that by providing DNA samples and/or DNA Results to us, you acquire no rights in any research or commercial products that may be developed that may relate to your DNA… By submitting DNA samples to us and/or DNA Results to the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, world-wide license to use your DNA samples, the DNA Results and the resulting DNA Reports.”

And, as Jack further discovers, there is absolutely no government oversight into where, how or by whom these samples can be used.


Okay, I don’t actually expect a serial killer to turn up at my door. Still, it all suddenly seems a bit creepy. Perhaps I won’t bother.

Caveat emptor.

From → Blog

  1. krysross permalink

    That does seem like a pretty big deal to be buried in the fine print. Now I need that Connelly.

  2. Donna Deacon permalink

    Wow. I had no idea. Seems kind of sinister that something as potentially significant as that is buried in the fine print. Creepy. Good thing I don’t have any real interest in tracking down my birth father’s DNA.

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