tech2 News StaffMar 20, 2019 13:14:57 IST
Say hello to DNA Friend, a genetics company for consumers that is going up against giants like 23andMe and Ancestry with its "freest and fastest DNA testing service."
Looking for a pinch of salt, are you? You won't need it, for DNA Friend is a parody — and a hilarious one at that!
The company is owned by Thud, a new media project run by ex-Onion employees and once backed by Elon Musk. It has a website and a presence on social media. Musk once referred to The Onion "the greatest publication in the history of all conscious beings, living or dead," indicating his love for satire well-done.
Thud may have had some good reasons to settle on DNA testing to mess with. The industry is a young and booming one, with two major companies alone — 23andMe and Ancestry — claiming a monopoly, with a combined user base of 18 million. The DNA information stored in such databases is linked to tens of millions of people — the user's sisters, parents and children, importantly.
A lot can be learned about a family simply by accessing one member’s DNA.
Market predictions are expecting DNA testing to boom even further by 2024. And in the meanwhile, there are a range of challenges that continue to plague DNA testing companies — privacy protection for customers, tie-ups with law enforcement, and their use in trials and studies.
“Finally, something to do with my extra spit!” —Mei-Yin pic.twitter.com/pnZ31A7cdu
— DNA Friend (@DNAFriend) March 19, 2019
In fake user feedback, "Carl" noted, "DNA Friend linked my DNA to a string of unsolved murders committed in LA during the '80s" — a thinly veiled reference to the Golden State Killer, who was tracked down and arrested by police 30 years after the crimes when his relatives uploaded their DNA to an open source website, GEDmatch.
The arrest began a debate about whether users of DNA testing services know that their data can be used in criminal and forensic investigations.
— DNA Friend (@DNAFriend) March 17, 2019
Another serious issue around privacy that DNA Friend pokes fun at is sharing of DNA databases with pharma companies.
"We know that you’re entrusting us with every intimate detail of who you are," jokes the website. "And we will never violate that trust by allowing your DNA to fall into the hands of anyone outside our corporate partnership network."
Sharing data with others in a "corporate partnership network" isn't illegal, since the fine print in most cases tells users that their data will be shared anonymously. Yet, there it isn't common knowledge.
Databases in 23andMe and many others are dominated by white, male users. Having a limitation like this in your userbase doesn't bode well for companies. It could also be borderline unethical in the case of studies that come from such DNA data.
I'm curious about:
— DNA Friend (@DNAFriend) March 14, 2019
Another fake user, "Julie-Anne", shared her delight when she discovered her "saliva is mostly European."
The website is full of such hilarity, and worth browsing when you've got the time to spare.
Like it's only too rare to find in comedy, the website has light-hearted and serious themes underlying it. It does a more palatable job than some of the wordier warnings about DNA testing-dangers.
With the newly-passed DNA Profiling Bill, India might need a tidy fix like DNA Friend of its own.
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