Thursday, 30 August 2012

AncestryDNA's response to my request for my raw genetic data

As discussed in my previous blog post one of the major drawbacks of AncestryDNA's new autosomal DNA test is that they do not currently allow their customers access to their raw genetic data. Ken Chahine, the Senior Vice President and General Manager, DNA, at Ancestry.com has publicly stated at a meeting of the Presidential Committee for Bioethical Issues in Washington, D.C., his belief that "the customer retains ownership of their DNA and their data" [my italics]. The genetic genealogy blogger CeCe Moore has been told by John Pereira, the Vice President of Business Development at Ancestry.com, that Ancestry "are genuinely considering the best way to deliver this data to us". However, Ancestry are also taking into consideration the feedback from other customers and it appears that allowing customers access to their raw genetic data is not currently a priority.

Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, the other two companies that offer autosomal DNA tests for genetic genealogists, both allow their customers to download their DNA data files from their personal accounts. If Ancestry are intending to introduce such a feature it will inevitably take time to implement the necessary IT infrastructure. In the meantime I decided to contact Ancestry.com about the possibility of obtaining a copy of my autosomal DNA raw data file as it would surely be a simple matter for them to e-mail this file to me. I contacted Ancestry through their Customer Services Department. They replied very promptly apologising for the "frustration" regarding my raw DNA data. I was told that the  "DNA project is still very new and in the beta testing stage. Our developers are currently in discussions regarding adding a feature that will allow members to download their DNA data." In the meantime Ancestry are encouraging members to send them feedback by clicking on the "Beta Send Feedback" button that appears in the top right corner of your DNA page. They advised me that their "developers are going through this feedback and basing a lot of their decisions on what we are hearing from our members".

However, Ancestry did not reply to my question about receiving my genetic data so I replied asking once more if they could send me my file. They again replied very promptly but I was told  "Currently we are unable to send you a file with your raw DNA data. We apologize for any frustration this issue may have caused and appreciate your feedback. We have forwarded your message on to our feedback department." I was also given a telephone number in the US that I could ring, but as I am in the UK a transatlantic telephone call is not a realistic proposition. Ancestry do have a UK telephone number but as their DNA test is not being actively marketed in the UK, I do not imagine that I will be able to get any answers from them.

I can appreciate that logistically it might be difficult for Ancestry's customer services reps to arrange for customers to receive data files as the files are probably held elsewhere. It is, however, very disappointing that they are unable to fulfil their promise and I hope the issue will be addressed as soon as possible. I cannot recommend anyone testing at AncestryDNA for the present unless and until this problem is fixed.

As AncestryDNA clearly do not think that allowing customers access to their own genetic data is a top priority I would urge everyone who has tested with them to submit feedback requesting access to their personal raw data files. Ancestry do not appear to be replying to comments that are submitted through the Feedback button. A question I submitted last week asking for information about the British reference populations used for their admixture predictions has not been answered. I would therefore suggest that, in addition to submitting feedback, everyone also writes to Customer Services asking for a copy of their raw genetic data file. If enough requests are received then perhaps Ancestry might consider implementing this basic and essential feature.

A DNA project administrator in the US who is on the ISOGG project admins mailing list has advised that he has received good support when talking to Ancestry on the phone. If anyone in the US is able to ring Ancestry I would be very interested to hear what they have to say about this issue.

Update 4 September 2012
A UK genealogy friend advised me that it is possible to call Ancestry's freephone UK telephone number (0800 404 9723) and they will, if necessary transfer you to AncestryDNA in the US free of charge. I rang the number this afternoon to enquire further about the possibility of getting my raw genetic data. I was told that Ancestry currently have no way to do this but "a lot of people have requested this feature" and they are looking into it. I also asked if they could let me know what they are using as their reference populations for the British Isles but was told that, as the test is still in beta, this information has not yet been made available. I was told that about 99.9% of the people in the Ancestry database currently reside in the US.

The freephone/toll-free international contact numbers and opening hours for the AncestryDNA helpline can be found at the bottom of the FAQs page on the old Ancestry.com DNA website here.

© 2012 Debbie Kennett

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