Genetic Testing as Social Networking

By Elizabeth Sepper

In the market for discount genetic testing?  Want to share your genetic markers with friends?  No?  You might soon be alone.

Last week, I got an email from the mega-discounter Groupon advertising 68% off a “DNA Self-Discovery Kit.”  The company, ConnectMyDNA, allows Groupon users to send in a cheek swab and receive back information on their genetic markers and how those markers compare to people around the world (what they call a “Gene RingTM”).

The big selling point:  sharing results with friends on social media and making new connections to people with similar genetic markers.  ConnectMyDNA’s website says, “You can use your Gene Ring™ as your personal badge anywhere you’d like—on your business card, email signature, or you can even create a cool T-shirt!”

This all seems fairly harmless.  But I wonder if sharing genetic information will represent the next step in the race to the bottom of privacy expectations.  People already regularly disclose extensive medical information related to illness, recovery, and injury on Caringbridge, Facebook, and public blogs.  As genetic tests come down in price and become more commercially available, will genetic information be next?  How will law and ethics respond to protect family members who share genetic information or shield those predisposed to disease from discrimination in this context?  Today, genetic screening raises ethical issues and contention among family members at risk, for instance, for hereditary breast or ovarian cancer.  Tomorrow, sharing one’s genome with Facebook friends, twitter users, and the public may be the norm.

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