Clinical science

Risks of Using a Genealogy Website

DNA strand

Reports of DNA solving decades-old cold cases suggest genealogy websites help find criminals. You may be wondering though, how safe is your privacy?

Who Shares What?

In 2024, Thomas Martin Elliot, who died in 1991, was identified as the 1975 killer of Teree Becker. DNA connects Florida death row inmate, Lucious Boyd, to the nearly 25-year-old rape and murder of Eileen Truppner. The Golden State Killer took the lives of over 106 victims in the 1970s and ’80s and was brought to justice in 2018 with DNA.

You may not have any criminals in your family tree. Then again, you might. The promiscuous activity of relatives could spout some surprising branches through DNA.

Some healthcare groups promote genetic testing to identify potential ailments. Perhaps you are curious about your lineage. Will mailing a vial of your saliva to an online site negate your privacy?

Commercial sites like 23andMe and Ancestry deny access to member data unless under court order. Most of the cold cases occur through free online sources like GEDMatch from Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs. These include solving criminal cases in their charter. It’s called investigative genetic genealogy.

Considerations Before Using Genealogy Website

You might wonder why a murderer would use a DNA-matching website. It’s unlikely that he does. Sometimes detectives can identify a suspect or exonerate a falsely accused prisoner based on the DNA of a criminal’s sibling or offspring.

When you see headlines of cold cases solved from genealogy websites, it is most often not the commercial platforms. If you suspect someone in your family guilty of a crime is walking around in public would you want to have him brought to justice?

Avoid Fate of the Criminal Gene

Another fear some have is the discovery of the so-called criminal behavior genes. These include “cadherin 13” (CDH13), a gene involved in neural connectivity, and “monoamine oxidase A” (MAOA), a controller of dopamine levels in the brain. Both have been associated with criminal behavior. However, courts do not uphold this as a criminal defense strategy.

Maybe you have concerns about your privacy. The services that charge for their service have teams of lawyers to contest requests for customer data. Expect to give up some privacy when using the free genealogy sites. Read the privacy agreement.

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ClinicalPosters sells human anatomy charts, scientific posters, and other products online to offset expense of the writing useful articles about clinical science. Slide extra posters into DeuPair Frames without removing from the wall.

ClinicalPosters sells human anatomy charts, scientific posters, and other products online. You may remit a small donation.

You can support the writing of useful articles about clinical science by sponsoring specific articles or remitting a small donation. Visible content is optimized for device size.

References
  1. Genetic Genealogy: DNA and Family History. guides.loc.gov/genetic-genealogy
  2. Parabon NanoLabs. parabon-nanolabs.com
  3. The Criminal Behavior of Genes. sciencerepository.org/the-criminal-behavior-of-genes (2020)
  4. Criminal defendants still cite a ‘gene for violence.’ It doesn’t exist. washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/03/18/genetics-criminal-defense-warrior-violence/ (2021)

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