Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
Consumer DNA tests are one of the hottest trends right now, with 23andMe boxes lining Target’s end caps and Kelly Ripa promoting Ancestry.com. It’s a pretty amazing concept: Spit into a tube and get a wealth of information about your ancestral history and family lineage.
Once your results are uploaded into the provider’s database, you’ll have access to a network of other individuals with similar genetic markers. These people could be second, third, fourth cousins, half-siblings, or even biological family members you didn’t know you had. Depending on your privacy settings, these individuals can see your family tree and where they fit into it, along with your name and contact information.
Your DNA could be worth something to researchers, too. Yes, your DNA could be for sale — and it can be alarming to think about the ramifications of having your personal genetic data is floating around the internet.
If you’ve recently purchased or received a DNA genealogy test, here are a few things you may want to do to protect yourself and your data upon receiving the results.
Check Your Privacy Settings
In a time when data governance is of the utmost importance, you should be fully aware of how your DNA information is being used by the company you’ve chosen to run your test. Most platforms allow you to adjust your privacy settings so that you aren’t sharing your data, or you can opt to make it available for research purposes. Nebula Genomics puts researchers in touch with people who want to be considered for research projects, and they’re compensated for sharing their DNA data.
Another reason you might want to check those privacy settings is because your contact information may be visible to potential relatives. Typically, you’ll be notified of a DNA match and can choose to communicate with new matches. Still, it’s worth checking, in case you don’t want new family members finding you.
Be Cautious When Reaching Out
As you’re perusing your test results and potential family matches, you might find long-lost relatives on the platform that you’d like to connect or reconnect with. Use caution when initiating contact, as some people may seem skittish. Make it clear how you found them, if you do reach out. Explain who you are and why you’re contacting them.
It’s important to go into any new relationship with a family member found on a DNA network with a bit of understanding. The person you’re contacting may not have any interest in getting to know you or meeting you. Leave the ball in their court, and don’t take it personally if they pass.
Look Into Them First
On the flip side, if a new “relative” reaches out to you, you may want to run a background check before you decide to communicate or meet with them. An online search of public records could reveal some helpful information, so you can weed out someone who might not be on the up and up.
Agree on a Public Meetup
If you’ve decided to meet one of your DNA matches, it’s best that you two agree to meet in a public place the first time. Having neutral ground on which to start a relationship is good for both parties. Truth be told, you only share DNA with this other person, and neither of you knows much about the other. Take it slowly, and see whether both of you want to continue a familial relationship.
Can’t find your relatives on a DNA test site? Try BeenVerified’s Relative Finder tool.