Tuesday 10 December 2019

GEDmatch has been acquired by the forensic genomics company Verogen

GEDmatch has been acquired by the forensic genomics company Verogen. The acquisition was announced today in a press release from Verogen.
SAN DIEGO, CA (December 9, 2019) — GEDmatch, a pioneer in consumer genealogy, today announced that it has joined with forensic genomics firm Verogen, Inc. in a move that allows the company to ensure ongoing privacy protections and enhance the customer experience for users of its website. 
“I am confident that we have found an ideal partner for GEDmatch,” said founder Curtis Rogers. “Verogen understands our philosophy and shares the vision of GEDmatch, which has always been about using science to connect people,” Rogers said. “Verogen is able to support our growth while staying true to our roots.” 
GEDmatch allows users to upload genetic profiles created by other genealogy sites in order to expand the search for familial links. GEDmatch’s database currently has more than 1.3 million customer profiles and is gaining as many as 1,000 new users every day. 
In the coming months, GEDmatch users will begin to see improvements to the website, such as an enhanced homepage that offers increased functionality, Verogen CEO Brett Williams said. Verogen will also bolster the GEDmatch platform, resulting in increased stability and optimal searchability. These back-end changes won’t disrupt the experience for users and, in fact, will make searching the database easier, Williams said. 
GEDmatch’s terms of service will not change, with respect to the use, purposes of processing, and disclosures of user data, Williams confirmed. The website gives users a choice to opt-in to allow law enforcement to search uploaded files as a tool to solve violent crimes. Among the successes of this technology is work by public safety officials who used GEDMatch to apprehend accused Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo, a notorious serial killer who terrorized California and evaded police for decades until his arrest in 2018. 
As many as 70 violent crimes have been solved as a result of genealogy searches. “Never before have we as a society had the opportunity to serve as a molecular eyewitness, enabling law enforcement to solve violent crimes efficiently and with certainty,” Williams said. 
“Still, our users have the absolute right to choose whether they want to share their information with law enforcement by opting in,” Williams said. “We are steadfast in our commitment to protecting users’ privacy and will fight any future attempts to access data of those who have not opted in.” 
Added Rogers: “Our number one priority is our customers. We are and always have been a genealogy site whose goal is to help people find answers they’re looking for about themselves and their families. As we grow, we want to enhance the customer experience by making the site more user-friendly and by ensuring data is protected. Verogen can help us do that.” 
Under terms of the deal, Rogers will retain a key role focused on the primary mission of GEDmatch, which is to provide tools to help amateur and professional researchers and genealogists. 
GEDmatch customers who have questions about the partnership or how their privacy is protected are encouraged to contact customer service at gedmatch@verogen.com
If you have an account on GEDmatch you will now see a notice when you log in to the website informing you of the need to sign up to the new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy which have been introduced "in view of recent events in the genealogical community".
The revised Terms of Service clarify that GEDmatch is now operated by Verogen "following the acquisition by Verogen of the GEDmatch website".

Some European Union users are being asked to fill in an extra consent form before they can access their one-to-many matches. However, despite being in the EU, I have not had to fill in this form. There is speculation that the form is only being shown to those who have e-mail addresses that can be readily identified as being from EU countries.

At the end of the new site policy you are given three options: to accept the new terms of service, to reject the policy and delete your kit or to decide later. You will not be able to enter the site unless you accept the new terms of service.
To see the differences between the old and new privacy policies at GEDmatch see this saved link from DiffChecker.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. With the investment from Verogen we are likely to see improved functionality at GEDmatch, a better user interface and improved security measures. However, Verogen will also need to recoup their costs. Will genealogists be put off from using a genealogy database that is owned by a forensics company? I've already seen lots of comments from genealogists on Twitter and Facebook who have indicated that they will now be deleting their kits from GEDmatch. Will Verogen be able to attract enough paying subscribers to the Tier 1 tools to make a profit? Will Verogen introduce new subscription features? Will they charge law enforcement agencies for access to the database? How will Verogen react if they are served with a subpoena or search warrant for access to kits which have not opted in?

GEDmatch is now one of three genetic genealogy databases that can be used by law enforcement agencies. Gene By Gene, the parent company of FamilyTreeDNA, has its own lab where it provides forensic testing. They allow law enforcement agencies access to their genetic genealogy databases but charge a substantial fee to cover the costs of registering the users and processing the paperwork. Controversially, FTDNA now automatically opt in all their customers to law enforcement matching regardless of where they live. Few people read through all the terms and conditions when signing up for a genealogy test and so they will not have given fully informed consent to have their data shared with law enforcement. EU customers were automatically opted out of law enforcement matching prior to March 2019, but customers in all other countries were opted in.

DNA Solves is a new website set up by David Mittelman of Othram. Mittelman was previously the Chief Scientific Officer at Gene by Gene. DNA Solves has not yet been officially launched but is intended as a law enforcement-only database. Few details are currently available about how the site will operate.

It remains to be seen how this will all work out. Time will tell.

Update 10 December 2019
Verogen have sent out the following e-mail to their customers.
To Our Valued Customers:

We are pleased to share news that has far-reaching benefits for our company, our customers, and our scientific and law enforcement partners. Today, Verogen announced its acquisition of GEDmatch, an online genetic genealogy service that has been central to law enforcement solving over 70 cold cases in the U.S.

What this means for you

On a day-to-day basis it is business as usual. Verogen will continue to provide NGS instrumentation, software, reagents and consumables to a global customer base for forensic and biometric based human identification. Meanwhile, we will bring significant technical and scientific resources to build a more expansive GEDmatch platform that will exhibit increased security and ease of use. In the coming months, we will engage you in a conversation about the future of genetic genealogy, and how Verogen will enable the operational forensic laboratory to participate in the exciting revolution.

For more information, you can read the full press release here. 

The Verogen story continues…

Verogen was spun out from Illumina in August 2017 and is the only company solely focused on providing NGS instrumentation, software, reagents and consumables for forensic and biometric based human identification.

Verogen is building an NGS-based forensic ecosystem that is focused on a single platform multi-application strategy with common workflows between the applications. We are developing a compact but powerful range of applications that work in combination to improve and extend forensic analysis of biological traces that will enhance your ability to obtain an individual’s identification.

Today we offer solutions that utilize genomic and mitochondrial DNA that address the most common challenges for casework and missing persons sample analysis. Soon, we will be rolling out new applications as part of our “single platform multi-application strategy” that will enhance and expand your ability to provide a comprehensive human ID.
Update 10th December 2019
The following message to GEDmatch users has been posted by Curtis Rogers. It is visible when you log into your GEDmatch. The full message can also be seen here: https://www.gedmatch.com/curt_msg.htm

Update 11 December 2019
There is now a new Facebook page for the new GEDmatch:


Update 18 December 2019
See my blog post An update on EU kits at GEDmatch and a message from Curtis Rogers

Further reading


Don said...

Hi Debbie, I just clicked Accept on Gedmatch and got this error:
Warning: mysqli_connect(): (08004/1040): Too many connections in /var/www/html/GDPR/Include/connecti_EU_Local.php on line 10
mysql_connect ERROR (10): Too many connections

I can't sign on now. I only get this message. I'll try again tomorrow.

Just thought you might like some feedback.


Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks Don. I didn't get the GDPR but had trouble logging. I deleted the GEDmatch cookies and I was then able to connect.