Pentagon warns home DNA kits could expose personal info

The Pentagon wants US military personnel to stay out of the booming market for home DNA tests.

The Department of Defense recently warned service members that test kits like those offered by Ancestry and 23AndMe could pose security risks to military operations.

Such direct-to-consumer tests “are largely unregulated and could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission,” defense officials wrote in a Dec. 20 memo.

The do-it-yourself tests generally use a saliva sample to determine the user’s ethnic heritage and risks for certain health problems. Some tests have led people to find family members whom they didn’t know.

Testing companies have been marketing the kits to defense personnel with military discounts and other incentives, according to the memo. But “possible inaccuracies” in the tests make them risky for military personnel, who are required to disclose medical information that affects their readiness to serve, Pentagon officials wrote.

“Moreover, there is increased concern in the scientific community that outside parties are exploiting the use of genetic data for questionable purposes, including mass surveillance and the ability to track individuals without their authorization or awareness,” said the memo, which Yahoo News first reported.

The popularity of at-home DNA tests has exploded in recent years  More than 26 million people had taken one by the end of this January, and companies offering them sold as many in 2018 as in all prior years combined, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Ancestry and 23AndMe are the largest players in an industry that was worth more than $750 million last year, according to an estimate from Infinium Global Research. The two companies had tested a total of 23 million people through January of this year, while their competitors had only tested 3.5 million, MIT has reported.

Ancestry is getting ready for another initial public offering amid the boom in the market, Bloomberg News has reported. The company first went public in 2009 but was taken private in 2012.

23AndMe did not respond to a request for comment on the Pentagon’s memo. But Ancestry spokeswoman Gina Spatafore said protecting users’ privacy and data is the company’s “highest priority.”

“Ancestry does not share customer DNA data with insurers, employers, or third-party marketers,” Spatafore said in an email. “Ancestry will also not share customer personal information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant.”

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