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23 and John Doe: thoughts on today’s genetic testing sale at 23andMe


Genetic testing startup 23andMe is running a ‘1-day sale’ that removes their normal up-front testing fee of $199. The catch- you have to agree to subscribe to 12 months of their genetic update service, whatever that is, @ $9/m.

Seeing as I’ve had two friends ping me about the promotion, and its now ended up on Hacker News, I thought I’d write an off-topic on my concerns about the impact of genetic testing in this way.

For those that don’t know, I always expected to enter a career in bio-technology but as my understanding for the topic grew, so did my understanding of its implications and its (non-religious) ethical questions.

23 and John Doe

My advice to anyone thinking of doing genetic testing (be it 23andMe or another route) is to consider seriously doing it at as a “John Doe” (ie not using your real name and details).

Knowing you have a high susceptibility to a significant disease could have all sorts of implications for insurance – medical, life and even car.

In general insurance companies require you to disclose any and all information that you have that would be pertinent to them assessing risk. Clearly for medical and life insurance you knowing there is a high chance you will get Parkinsons (for example) is information your insurer would like to know.

Here in the US there are currently laws – such as Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) – to prevent insurance companies demanding this information.

However laws can be repealed. The health care and insurance industries are the ‘leaders’ in government lobbying. 23andMe could be aquired by an insurance firm.

Also consider laws differ in other countries, where insurance companies might be able to legally demand results. In Canada insurance companies can not only request it, they can demand you get this kind of testing before you can obtain coverage.

Consider further that databases can be hacked/stolen.

Think carefully whether you want your personal legal name and contact details all over the results of a test like this.

Photo CC licensed by hongiiv

Published in News Thoughts and Rants


  1. I completely agree – I saw the Sale too and was intrigued, but every insurance company I know has a clause similar to ‘if you know of any increased risk’.

    This is a truely revolutionary service, but until insurance companies are legislated against discrimating against people due to their DNA profile, this will have to be one of those nice projects that I can’t recommend participating, which is a shame.

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