We agree it’s hard to resist the desire to find out everything about your heritage. Not every family carefully keeps records of its ancestry, and many people are very curious about more remote relatives. From the day DNA tests became widely available, they are extremely popular — the number of people who found out their heritage has exceeded 30 million.
While it’s easy to understand the interest, it’s kind of weird to see so many people taking these tests, considering all the precautions we take to protect our privacies and identities. Still, trying to keep our credit card data hidden, we share our DNA data without second thoughts. You can change all passwords, and you can block your credit card — but you can’t alter your DNA. Yet, of course. In the future, changing your DNA might be just as easy as changing your password.
How much data do DNA test services share?
If you go through the privacy policies of any of such services, you will see them reassuring you that none of your sensitive information will be shared. They tell that they will strip the data you give them from any that would be considered sensitive — which means, any data that could let someone identify you. And these services promise to share only aggregate data that can be used for marketing or scientific purposes.
In other words, these services say that none of the information that could identify you is shared. Moreover, they claim that they’re keeping your DNA data apart from your name and other information.
This might be calming for those who don’t know what we know. And to not ignite your curiosity, we will tell you what we know right now.
One can identify the person having only their DNA data
Thanks to the computational biologist Yaniv Erlich, in 2013 we found out that it’s possible to reveal the identity of a person having only their genome. Having access to DNA databases such as GEDmatch, one can link relatives to each other and then figure out who is the person that’s living with the specific genome.
That’s unsettling. It means that despite the data separation practice of DNA test services you’re still exposed to a potential threat. So to the worries about us getting cloned without us even knowing about they we can add the worry about us getting tracked down for some reason.
So, it is possible to remain anonymous while taking a DNA test?
If you feel an unconquerable burning urge to find out your heritage down to a single percent, we won’t stop you. Instead, we will share some tips with you on how you can improve your chances of protecting your privacy. Still, you should remember that it’s absolutely impossible to remain completely anonymous — after all, you’re sharing your genome.
So, the only thing you can do is to share as little of your personal information as possible. You obviously won’t be able to hide your gender as your DNA reveals it — but at least, you can keep your name and location in secret.
Buying the test
The first thing you can do is to buy the test from Amazon, not from the official site of the service you’ve chosen. Sure, the seller will know your name and address, but you can hope that the DNA test service will not link it to a particular kit. Also, you always can ask your friend to buy you a DNA test kit if you want to avoid all the possible risks. And if you live in the US or in some other country where you can buy a kit in the physical store — that would be perfect. For an extra layer of security pay with cash, not with a credit card. However, the DNA test service might keep track of physical locations that sell kits and, thus, roughly estimate your address.
Sample and mailing
Once you have your kit, you need to take a sample of your saliva and then mail it to the service. Here everything is simple — just don’t put your address on the package, only the address of the receiver. It will be enough for the sample to get delivered. You can go the extra mile and mail it from some remote post office, too.
Now you have to register your kit on the site of a service to get your results later. All the DNA test services do collect your IP address and other cookie information. So if you want to maintain some level of privacy, you need to hide your data. It’s easy to do — iNinja VPN is here for you. Simply turn it on to cover your IP. You can also wipe your cookies before entering the site of the service to share as little information as possible.
During the registration input fake name and surname, age, location — that’s quite an obvious advice. But many users overlook the fact that the email addresses they’re using to create an account contain their names. You can create another email account that won’t display your information.
Also, don’t leave any additional data, and opt-out of all the options that could jeopardize your privacy — don’t allow the service to use your genome for research or for any other purposes. Opt-out of all the additional features that will let the service share your data. Finally, if you got your kit offline, you will need to pay a lab fee — a non-reloadable prepaid debit card will be perfect.
When your results are ready, log into the site having the VPN on and download the reports along with raw data if the service you’ve chosen offers it. You can also delete your DNA information and close your account — perhaps, some traces will be left, but by wiping as much as you can you will lower the risks of your information being used with the wrong intention.
We have to say that this strategy is not perfect. There still is a chance that someone will reveal your identity. So we strongly recommend you to avoid DNA tests if you’re considered a person of some sort of interest.
Stay safe! And let iNinja VPN guard your privacy.