23andMe Sells Genetic Data

Genetic Data for Sale

23andMe, a company that sells individuals information about their own genetic data, has just sold access to some of this data to Genentech. Genentech is using the data to do research about Parkinson’s. But it seems an easy jump to imagine that it’s being used by an insurance company.

Genentech is asking for individual data, so 23andMe will need to have consent forms signed before the data is released. But the article also contains this gem: “Its privacy policy notes that it will share aggregated data to third parties (read: sell to pharma and biotech companies) for scientific research if customers sign a consent document. Wojcicki told the San Jose Mercury News that 85 to 90 percent of 23andMe’s customers do.”

And so I want to know: How was it aggregated? Is it anonymized in some way? How? Is it possible to determine someone’s race or gender from the given information (directly or indirectly)? What other information about their health is included (23andMe has customers fill out extensive surveys)?

If it’s possible to use genetic data to make decisions about people (e.g., insurance), then it’s possible to discriminate against people based on their immutable genetic information.


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