Consumer Genealogy and Crime

In the news in my neck of the woods, a 43-year old crime in Wisconsin was recently solved by analyzing DNA from consumer sites that had been uploaded by family members of the perpetrator:

Last year, detectives contacted Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company whose work with genetic genealogy analysis has helped police identify 55 suspects in cold cases nationwide since May 2018, according to the company. Parabon uploads DNA from crime scenes to GEDmatch, a free, public genealogy database with about 1.2 million profiles, all voluntarily submitted by people who’ve used consumer genealogy sites like and 23andMe.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this use of data, or on consumer genealogy in general.

Here’s the full story: Arrest in 43-year-old murder case stuns Wisconsin town

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Longer Answer: The issue with using things like Ancestry and 23andMe is you aren’t only giving you own information but all those with genetic markers in your extended family. I mean, cool, they solved a murder. That’s really really good, but once that data inevitably gets breached (hasn’t it already?) Pandora’s box will never be shut again. (Think insurance claims, medical coverage, illegal job discrimination and countless other issues caused by collecting and improperly maintaining that information.

Plus, you ‘volunteering’ your own information puts those close to at risk, you aren’t just volunteering yourself, you’re drafting family members too, and they may certainly not consent.

To be completely fair, I have gotten genetic testing done, but that was through a hospital (and for like…real medical reasons, not just because I needed to confirm I’m white).

I think it’s a terrible idea, but it’s going to be hard to convince people of that when positive stories like this come out.


Agree @_TJ. These stories are an example of how we’re so willing to embrace new technology because of the benefits (real or perceived) without thinking of the consequences (intended or unintended). Are a few solved cold cases every couple of years worth giving private companies (and therefore, law enforcement) total access to the most fundamental pieces of who we are? Do we need to know the specific details of our ancestry THAT BAD that we give away those private details about our extended families without their consent?

I am pretty sure there are people in my family lying to me about whether or not they did 23andMe cause they know I’d be so mad. :angry:

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My gut reaction is that no person should give a private company their DNA. And I say gut reaction because I can’t articulate why I feel/have felt that way since first heard of this service, but I am grateful that @_TJ and @alison have helped with some of that reasoning in their responses. My general thought has always been that DNA testing companies will then have your DNA and can just do whatever with it.
And that cannot be good…Which isn’t a great argument, but it is how I feel.
A solved cold-case doesn’t change my gut.

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I think your gut reaction and your thinking on this IS right – you ARE effectively giving the company ownership rights, and that is scary!

I also agree with @_TJ about genetic testing not just being about an individual, but information about an entire family getting shared, often without their consent. And while we hear about the successes of identifying criminals in cold cases, we don’t hear as often about the false positives. Here’s a link to a story about one: It ended up “working out” for the gentleman, but even being suspected of a crime can destroy some people’s lives.