23andMe sells your information

DNA data is lucrative for pharmaceutical companiesHow out spit gold becomes

If you want to find out something about your relatives, you can contact genealogists. They need genetic material for analysis. Okay so far. However, our DNA contains data that is valuable in gold for pharmaceutical companies and therefore very popular.

Anyone who has ever had something to do with genealogy knows: It's actually very simple - a little bit of spit in the tube is enough to find out, for example, that you have an uncle in South America.

To find out, researchers look at our genetic material in the laboratory. While we are usually only interested in the result - i.e. the uncle - pharmaceutical companies are very interested in our data set. The market in which this data is traded is as huge as it is lucrative.

DNA data provide information about disease risks

Science journalist Michael Stang once did a genetic test for $ 99 at Google's subsidiary 23andMe five years ago. At that time it had just been proven that Neanderthals had offspring together with Homo Sapiens and the aim of the test was to find out how many Neanderthals there are in him. - Result: Slightly more than four percent, i.e. slightly above the European average. But only by the way.

Much more exciting is that a lot more data has been filtered out - which allows him to understand how high his statistical risk is of developing certain diseases.

Customers give up sovereignty over their data

This information is no longer passed on to customers. Through various court decisions, the American food and pharmaceuticals regulatory authority has banned the company 23andMe from forwarding information about disease risks such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. However, the data are still on the server.

Our sovereignty over our own data has also changed. New customers no longer have the right to object to trading in their own data.

"Once you've given in your saliva sample, i.e. the genome has been sequenced, the data has landed in pharmaceutical research."
Michael Stang, science journalist, on the DNA data trade

New markets can be tapped from the data pool

The latest deal between 23andMe and the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline shows just how interesting our DNA data is for the pharmaceutical industry. They paid $ 300 million for a four-year limited access to 23andMe's five million customer data. The aim is to use this data to draw conclusions about which markets will be lucrative in the future. In other words, why it is worth developing new drugs or cosmetics.

The 23andMe data pool is additionally enriched by findings that the Google subsidiary obtained through surveys. GlaxoSmithKline not only has insight into data about gender, age, height, origin, as well as disease risks such as Parkinson's, kidney cancer or hair loss, but they also know about our lifestyle - i.e. how much coffee or alcohol we drink and when we go to bed how much we sleep and so on.

Anyone who has DNA tests done should read the terms and conditions

The pharmaceutical companies are less concerned with the individual than with the mass, which is the basis for static values. But of course, the more data the respective customer leaves behind, the more specific the personal profile becomes.

"In the meantime, this DNA database from 23andMe should be a money printing machine, because there are hardly any better processed profiles."
Michael Stang, science journalist, on the trade in DNA data

So if you just want to find out whether you have an uncle in South America, you should read the terms and conditions carefully, because the respective companies handle this differently. For example, new startups offer customers the option of buying their own DNA data in order to sell them to pharmaceutical companies if necessary.

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