It's something most people probably never even consider. When you freely give up your DNA to ancestry websites, what can your information be used for, who can get their hands on it, can it be used to look into your medical history, what about connections to crimes?
In one case examined by ABC6 the information was used to look up a woman's birth family. An invasion of privacy she never expected.
A simple google search, will give you a list that is pages long. The number of companies countless, My Heritage, Family Tree, 23 and me, the list of sites digging into your background is growing by the day. One of the most popular is Ancestry.com. There's a good chance you've caught a commercial or two. However, with the growth of these businesses probing into your lineage there's also a growing concern about your privacy.
"This is a very personal journey. This entire thing has been very stressful and emotional," Tara Reese told ABC6.
Reese told ABC6 that she is going through what she calls a nightmare. She told ABC6 that she was adopted as a child. Recently, her ex-mother in law had Reese's 12-year old son's DNA tested without her knowledge. Then, according to Reese, those results were used to track down her birth family.
"I immediately had a breakdown because not only was it something that I had not chosen to do myself, but I was just shocked. It's a life changing thing," said Reese.
ABC6 reached out to Ancestry.com for answers, they released the following statement:
“Protecting our customers’ privacy is our highest priority, and that starts with the basic belief that customers should always maintain ownership and control over their own data. Parents or legal guardians may activate a DNA test of their minor child in accordance with our Terms and Conditions. We deeply regret the distress that this situation has caused Ms. Reese and have taken an immediate step of removing her son’s results from our website while we investigate.” – Eleanor Chambre
However, for some legal experts like Douglas Funkhouser it begs the question, when these companies hold your DNA what's actually being done with it?
"I would tell them to read the fine print. I'm always amazed that people over the last 24 years that don't read the contracts that they sign. And a lot of these online things are very easy to click, click, click and you don't even know you're agreeing to something," said Funkhouser.
As a criminal defense attorney, Funkhouser told ABC6 that you need to know how your information will be used. Earlier this year, investigators in California were able to track down a serial killer thanks to a DNA site connected to a family member. Funkhouser obviously believes that is a positive, but he questions what this could mean for the future of your DNA blueprint..
"Four, five, ten years from now, who's to say that Microsoft won't buy out some DNA, Ancestry.com and now they can contact you and say, hey we looked at your DNA and to me that just seems like a huge invasion of your privacy," Funkhouser told ABC6.
That is yet another point of concern for Reese and what could be road blocks for her son in the future.
"Ancestry has access to your DNA results forever, so if there becomes a time when companies look into DNA for possible health issues, they've got all that information and maybe my child doesn't end up being able to get a job," said Reese.
As for the new found connection with her birth family, Reese told ABC6 that she has established a budding relationship and plans to keep the lines of communication open. She simply wishes this very personal decision would have been hers to make.
"It was a different journey. You know in the beginning I felt super violated," said Reese.