Closing Up Shop at 23andMe and the Trap

How could a DNA testing company be more unfriendly towards genealogists? I don’t know, but if you can think of something, I’m sure 23andMe will implement it.

23andMe has always been the “difficult” company to deal with, adding layers upon confusing layers of authorizations and requests to communicate and share DNA matching results, but the last few months, as far as I’m concerned have put lots of nails in their coffin.

Recently, the final nail went in.

The “upgrade,” and I use that term very loosely, began months ago at 23andMe amid something akin to a meltdown.  Four months later, nothing has improved.  None of the accounts that I manage have been transferred to the new format, communications have been nil and needless to say, any genealogical work has died on the vine for lack of water.

The transition that was supposed to be done by year end isn’t, and no word from 23andMe.

I’ve decided that with the other two testing companies, meaning Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, combined with GedMatch, that I really don’t need the hassles and frustrations inherent in 23andMe anymore.  This is, after all, supposed to be fun.

I signed on at 23andMe to clean up one of my accounts in preparation for deleting it.  The reason I was going to delete my kit is because you cannot opt out of their research entirely, and I didn’t want to simply abandon the kit at 23andMe, allowing their continued use but giving up on my end due to their decisions and business practices relative to genetic genealogy.

So, I signed in like normal, using the e-mail account that I used for this kit as my user ID and then my password.

23andme signin

Little did I know the trap 23andMe has set, but I soon found out.

I decided to check matches one last time and download the V2 data file.  I don’t ever expect to need this data, but just in case.  So I started by downloading the raw data.

In order to download a raw data file, first you have to find the option, hidden under the the drop downs, under your name, under “browse raw data.”

23andMe browse raw data

When you click on the download option, you then have to re-enter your password (hint, you could not be at this screen had you not already entered your password correctly) and then you also have to answer a secret question.

23andMe secret question

Apparently you need to be “extra protected” against yourself and downloading your own raw data.

But next comes the trap.

The Trap

Apparently 23andMe has implemented some sort of “internal timer” and if you haven’t signed in for awhile, they refuse to allow you access to your data, even AFTER you have signed in with the correct e-mail and password, then entered your password again, then entered your secret answer correctly. That’s 4 times you’ve authenticated that you are you – but that is apparently not good enough.

They insisted on sending an e-mail to my e-mail account to verify access. Well, I hate to tell you, but I abandoned that e-mail account long ago.  But there was no reason to change the login at 23andMe to something different because the person who initially took this test is no longer interested in the results and hasn’t been in quite some time.

23andMe confirm e-mail

So I clicked on “send the verification” because I had no choice, hoping that perhaps I could then go and recover the password for that old e-mail account and sign in to that old account just long enough to verify the password. No such luck.

23andme not receiving e-mail

So, the next day, I decided to sign in to 23andMe again to see if I could somehow figure out how to change the e-mail to my current e-mail, but now I’m effectively locked out of my own account until the verification comes back…which of course it never will because it was sent to the old e-mail address that I couldn’t recover.

I clicked on the option for “not receiving the confirmation e-mails.”

23andme reset e-mail

Great – it gave me the option of resetting the e-mail. I entered my current e-mail, which is the same e-mail for the rest of the accounts I manage and received this lovely error message.

23andMe e-mail in use

I can’t use my current e-mail because it’s already in use. It’s already in use because I manage other kits at 23andMe.  And around and around we go.

In order to overcome this obstacle 23andMe has put in the road, I would have to go to a service where I don’t have an e-mail account and create one just to let 23andMe send me a confirmation e-mail so that I can access my account. Really?

So, let me get this right. 23andMe still has the DNA, is still selling and using the DNA with impunity and will forever unless I delete this kit, but I can’t have account access after entering 4 different security challenges correctly plus a new valid e-mail account?  Seriously?  And they somehow think this is acceptable?

Well, all I can say is that it’s a good thing I was already closing up shop at 23andMe, because this is the very last nail in that coffin. They couldn’t make this experience more difficult or painful if they tried.

I absolutely refuse to let them win.  They are not going to gain unfettered permanent access to this DNA because they’ve made it too difficult for me to access.  This overly aggressive “security” is nothing more than a way to exclude legitimate access and retain what they really wanted in the first place, your DNA to utilize and sell.  If you can’t gain access, you can’t opt out of research, as much as one can opt out at 23andMe, and you can’t delete your kit.  This is somehow poetic injustice at its worst.  In other words, yes, it’s a very effective exclusionary trap.

So, I did in fact set up a new e-mail account, and I did confirm the e-mail address, and now I’ll set about deleting the account.  We’ll see how that goes.

Goodbye 23andMe, forever. My only regret is that I waited so long to leave – kind of like a bad marriage.

100 thoughts on “Closing Up Shop at 23andMe and the Trap

  1. I started with 23andme just over a year ago when the price was $99/kit and 10% off is more then two kits were purchased. There was one 2nd cousin, who never replied and in fact did not have a name. I made contact with a number of 4th & 5th “cousin’s”. Most of my direct ancestors have died, except for those of my paternal great grandfathers brother. We have not talked about DNA yet. I found them either in ancestries message board or family trees. Just before Christmas did the Ancestry DNA to get access to the the message board, etc. Finally made contact with a descendant of my grandfathers sister.
    Now as for 23andme, I liked their previous website better, although by asking a question I learned how to lookup the recent members additions who are 3rd to 4th cousins. Not that I learned the trick on looking up new members, I’m happier. With the increase in testing cost, am not going to recommend new members.
    I do plan to continue with 23andme because I have been communicating with my “cousins”
    Sorry to hear about all of you being disenchanted! We might be relatives!

  2. Roberta, I’ve learned so much from your columns that I want to thank you for doing the work and sharing it. I have Estes relations on my maternal great-grandmother’s side, and so it was that link that brought me to your site. I’ve been a faithful and grateful reader ever since. Thanks for what you do.

    • After I opened a new e-mail account, I was able to access my account at 23andMe, but I should never have had to do that. I should have been able to add this account to my existing account at 23andMe with my existing e-mail.

  3. Pingback: New 23andMe Experience – In a Word, Disappointing | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  4. Hello Roberta,

    I had bought kits from three of these well known companies 23andMe I had convince family to contribute to my genealogy hobby this was while ago. Now the newest had wear off and I experience not so good things. Now I have I choice I must make and I hope you could give some advices.

    I worry for my family who have kits with this company, I do not want to be bother with their accounts anymore and They do not have any interests in this stuff anyway. I would like to ask you, Is it OK for me to close their accounts now without worry and with time just move on with our lives? Is this something it better I have to wait for the company to upgrade so they could used up
    the samples? I had already closed two accounts awhile ago, I understand it maybe something I
    have to live with, but how long I often wonder, Any sound advice would helpful.

    Thank you

    • That decision has to be entirely up to you. Of the three companies, as far as I’m concerned, the results at 23andMe are the least useful and most difficult to use. If I was going to close any of them this would be the one. I find both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry useful in different ways.

  5. DJ
    I hope you don’t close your account, even if you only check in periodically. You could hold the precious missing piece of someone else’s puzzle….or your next new
    match may hold yours.

    I, too am at the big three and have some issues with many features of the new 23andme. However, I’m finding some good in the “open sharing”; albeit, limited since many of the older matches have not checked in. If they’re ones who’ve closed shop, I’ve definitely lost some key pieces.

  6. Thank you for replying, so what do think I should do not to hold anyone to this. I`m getting older and this getting too much, I just want to do this the right way or just not worry about it too much while I know I did all I can do the best way possible as far as my family concerns.

    I really do not want to bother with this any more, But I would like to focus on papers trails of my family tree. Cheryl, The thing is family are not that interest in this, they done it because me and I and I really do not have any info to give their matches other then their results, why bother.

    I`m asking is it wise under these con circumstances to live with their lab keeping their samples?
    This is what I`m really need some advices. I need your inputs.

    Thank you

  7. Hello Roberta,

    I`m sorry to bothering with these matters, I`m hoping someone could give some advice like you done for me. Under these circumstances if is it OK to close my many accounts and just let their lab keeps the de-identified samples which I have with accounts.

    I heard from somewhere, The company may hold on to it for about two years. But I do not know if it`s true or not.

    One Last thing, Could you please explain to me in simple terms from ancestry dna.com policy
    is saying. Do you think its the same policy as 23 company?

    Please note: in the event that you or we delete results, copies of that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent any such copy has been shared with others and copied and stored. Additionally, we may retain certain information to prevent identity theft and other misconduct even if deletion has been requested. Information that is removed or deleted may also persist in backup copies for a reasonable time for our internal business purposes but will not be available to you or others.

    Thank you,

    • There is no simple explanation, and I’m not a lawyer. In a nutshell, they reserve the right to sell your DNA. You can close your account. The specifics after that are fuzzy. The only way to remove your DNA is to close the account, not just abandon it. But be sure that’s really what you want to do first, because it’s not reversible. You’d have to take another test.

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