I hear a lot of questions about DNA testing such as

  • Which DNA test is best?
  • Is my DNA test private and secure?
  • Does law enforcement have access to my DNA?

Which DNA Test is Best?

The answer to this question depends on what you plan to use the DNA test information for. The answer also changes somewhat over time depending on what services each DNA company provides, the features of each company’s website, and which new companies may come onto the DNA scene.

As of 2019, my opinion is, if you are searching for biological family, Ancestry DNA is still the best place to start. They have the largest pool of testers, have a very user friendly website, have trees of DNA matches available, and you can build trees with sources on their website if you have a subscription. Note: You will not have access to all DNA match features without a subscription. As of right now, you can upload your Ancestry DNA for free to My Heritage, FTDNA, and Gedmatch for additional matches. However, because Ancestry has not yet updated to the newest DNA chip, this compatibility between companies may be problematic and might drop away altogether.

If you are wishing to do deep work on your ancestral lines, I recommend also taking a test with FTDNA. They have DNA surname studies you can join for this kind of work. They also provide Y-DNA and Mt-DNA tests while other companies do not.

If you are searching for biological family, ultimately it is best that you test at all of the major companies: Ancestry, FTDNA, My Heritage, and 23andMe because you never know which company will have the one relative who will get you closer to the answer you need. In many cases, you will get an immediate answer in the form of a very close relative or a birth parent at one of the companies.

Is My DNA Private and Secure?

The answer to this is it depends. If you want your DNA to be anonymous so no matches can see it, at least two of the companies allow you to hide your results from matches. However, I wonder why people choose to do this. Usually the reason to take a DNA test is to see what relatives you have for the purpose of tree building. It is understandable when people encounter an unexpected relationship after taking a DNA test and want to hide that for emotional reasons. But otherwise I don’t understand. Only your DNA relatives can see you as a DNA match (not the general public) and they can’t see your DNA itself. They can only see that you are related to them and how closely you are related through DNA. Please consider all of the implications of what information a DNA test might disclose about relationships before testing.

All DNA companies allow you to delete your results upon request.

DNA Privacy at Each Company

Many people wonder if DNA companies will share your DNA with 3rd parties. Some do. Please check the terms of service for each company before testing to see who they might share your DNA with.

Ancestry allows you to opt out of 3rd party sharing. Personally, I want total control of the use of my DNA and always opt out of 3rd party sharing for this reason.

FTDNA has this statement in their privacy policy: “We will never share your Genetic Information with pharmaceutical or insurance companies, employers, or third-party marketers without your express consent.” 

23andMe has this statement in their privacy policy: “We do not share individual-level genetic data or survey responses with third parties without asking for and receiving your explicit permission to do so, except as required by law.”

MyHeritage has this statement in their privacy policy: “We will never sell or license DNA samples, DNA results, DNA reports or any other DNA information, to any third parties without your explicit informed consent, and we will never sell or license such information to insurance companies under any circumstance.”

But don’t take my word for it. Please read the company’s privacy policy and terms of service before ordering a test kit.

Does Law Enforcement Have Access to my DNA?

Again, it depends on the company. But let me explain something first. Law enforcement NEVER has access to your actual DNA without a warrant or subpoena. And honestly, if they wanted your actual DNA they could get a warrant to get it from you yourself. The companies who allow LE access only allow the viewing of DNA matches. LE uses the same exact process to determine the identity of a suspect as those of us who find biological family through the use of DNA matches. And LE doesn’t want access to your actual DNA in these cases because 1) it won’t help them at all and 2) strolling through DNA won’t hold up in court.

Law Enforcement begins every DNA search with the suspect’s DNA already in their hands. The suspect left the DNA behind on the scene of a crime, but LE wasn’t able to identify who the DNA belonged to. They take that DNA and upload it into a DNA company system and see what DNA matches pop up. Will they accidentally identify a family member as the suspect this way? No, it’s impossible. Again, they have the actual DNA in hand and when they identify the suspect, they will collect a DNA sample from that person and compare it to the DNA they already have. It has to be a 100% match. Otherwise, again, it won’t hold up in court.

Okay, back to which companies allow Law Enforcement to use their databases to look for DNA matches to their suspects. As of right now, I only know of two. FTDNA allows it. Gedmatch also allows it, but they recently changed their policy so you must opt-in for your DNA to show up in the database Law Enforcement sees. However, all companies must relinquish your DNA information if they are served with a warrant or subpoena. Understand that this is very rare and would only happen in extreme cases. I have only read of this happening once. To opt in at Gedmatch, click on the Law Enforcement icon next to your Gedmatch Kit number once you are logged in.

The above information only takes into account the four main players on the DNA scene. There are many other DNA companies. Again, please read the terms of service and privacy policy before ordering a DNA kit from any company.

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