23andMe changed from their V3 to V4 kit back in November of 2013. At that time, they reduced the number of locations tested on their chip from over 900,000 by roughly one third to 577,382. This is not what would normally be considered an improvement. However, at that time, the FDA’s shutdown of their medical testing greatly overshadowed the new chip, so very little notice was taken in the community. Truthfully, many people didn’t expect them to survive, so the chip was a non-issue.
Frankly, I had hoped that with their medical testing revenue gone, that they would focus on what was left, genetic genealogy, but they didn’t. In fact, if anything, they turned their back on genetic genealogists with the new system redesign that was a result of the agreement with the FDA relative to what they can and cannot say and do, relative to reporting medical results.
Since it appears that 23andMe is going to survive, I wanted to see the difference between a 23andMe V3 kit and a V4 kit, both in terms of matching and ethnicity results. Plus, the new system experience is different than the old experience when I ordered more than 5 years ago, so I wanted to see what ordering today is like.
Ordering and Kit Registration
Ordering a second kit under the same account (mine) was just the beginning of the frustration. The system died when I was ordering, during the credit card portion, of course, and I had no idea if the order was placed or not. The order did go through, but my “order” stayed in the 23andMe shopping cart. However, my credit card was charged and the kit arrived.
Registering the kit was even more frustrating because I already had a user ID at 23andMe.
When you sign in to 23andMe, you must click Register Kit, then sign on, and not the reverse order, or your kit registration will be declined because you are already using your e-mail address at 23andMe. And no, there are no instructions for this…anyplace. And no, it’s not intuitive.
Terms of Service and Privacy Statements
I clicked through the Terms of Service and Privacy Statements so you can take a look, if you are so inclined. If you’re going to order, this is where the verbiage is contained that describes what 23andMe can do with your DNA in terms of sale to third parties and utilizing your DNA themselves to develop drugs and other products. Be sure you read each of these intertwined documents and understand what you are authorizing – even if you don’t “opt in” for research. There is a level of research that you cannot opt out of if you agree to the terms and conditions – and you can’t register your kit if you don’t agree to the terms and conditions.
Please note number 2 under “Privacy Highlights” above.
Note number 4 under “Consent to the Use of Sensitive information” and the paragraph below number 4.
Next you see the Research Consent document.
Please note that every time you reply to one of their surveys, you are participating in research. Please note that all of the people who have access to your information are not listed here, and you will have to refer to the Privacy Statement for complete information.
Please note that they can further analyze any saliva in a stored sample.
Please note that 23andMe reserves the right to develop products, and they have already filed for patents, the first of which was a for “designer baby” technology. That was the day I withdrew my research consent.
Please note that even if you do not give consent, your information may still be used for other purposes, described in the Privacy Statement. Furthermore, you cannot opt out of your aggregated (and anonymized) data being utilized.
What I didn’t see mentioned is that their processing is done by an outside company, LabCorp.
Lastly, the actual consent portion.
Then you see this page, asking about sample storage:
Last, you must click submit and you’re done with this part.
Well, you may think you’re done with registration, but 23andMe wastes no opportunity to attempt to collect information about you which makes your DNA information more valuable to the purchasers.
Next, you have to spit in the vial, of course. A little vial doesn’t look like a lot of spit, until you’re trying to generate spit. Think of lemons. That helps.
I recently retested with both 23andMe and Ancestry, and while they both use a spit vial, the Ancestry vial is less messy because you don’t have to remove the top and screw on a lid.
The swab kits at Family Tree DNA are the best of all – no spitting needed.
The results were available in about a month.
One of the reasons I order the V4 kit is because it seemed that almost everyone else had already transitioned to the New Experience, but I hadn’t. I wanted to see what the New Experience was all about. Wouldn’t you know it, not long after I ordered my V4 kit, my V3 kit finally transitioned to the “New Experience” and I discovered that the questions required for the New Experience transition are exactly the same as the V4 purchase. So in that sense, the experiences are now the same.
Unfortunately, you have re-authorize your participation in DNA Relatives when you transition to the “New Experience,” meaning that for the highly coveted comparison of DNA between your kit with multiple others, if your matches haven’t transitioned, or haven’t bothered to sign on and reauthorize, including open sharing – the previous sharing authorization isn’t sufficient. That’s sad, because a lot of people have gotten so disgusted with 23andMe that they don’t sign on anymore. Furthermore, if someone has for any other reason become disinterested or ill or died, their DNA is no longer working for anyone…except for 23andMe who continues to utilize their abandoned kit.
V3 Versus V4
I wanted to specifically compare two things between the V3 and the V4 kits – matches and ethnicity.
I wanted to know if the reduced number of SNPs on the V4 chip result in a smaller number of matches and I wanted to know if the ethnicity percentages changed between V3 and V4. I also wondered if there was any change between the old V3 ethnicity and the V3 New Experience ethnicity percentages.
Lastly, I wondered if there is any advantage for someone who has already taken the V3 test to order a V4 test, other than curiosity.
V3 “New Experience” Ethnicity
The ethnicity percentages remained exactly the same in the V3 old version and the V3 new experience version, which is exactly what I expected. The new display is shown below.
Where did the display on my chromosome go? Aha, it’s under Scientific Details – not what I would expect under that tab, but here it is.
The bar above the browser shifts from Speculative to Conservative.
There is a very slight difference between the V3 and the V4 versions of ethnicity.
It looks like some of the unassigned results in the V3 version have become Native on chromosome 2 in the V4 version – by two tenths of one percent.
The European remained the same, as did the Middle Eastern and North African, but the unassigned went from .2% to .1% and the difference is reflected in the East Asian and Native American that shifted from .3% to .5%.
In essence, there is very little difference.
V3 Versus V4 Matching
I set both accounts, meaning the V3 “new experience” and the V4 new account with exactly the same sharing options, meaning opting in to DNA Relatives and authorizing open sharing.
The V3 “new experience” which is the old test has a total of 1700 matches. The V4 kit on the newer chip with fewer SNPs has only 1651 matches, or 49 fewer, or about 3% of the matches. My assumption was that most of those matches were the same people on both chips.
However, when I compare my own result from the V3 and the V4 chip, 23andMe tells me that I have only 400 matches in common. Uh-oh. That’s vastly different than 1700 versus 1651.
I scrolled down through this list of 400 people and I noticed that only the individuals who are coded as purple, meaning they are “open sharing” are listed. All of the people that gave me permission to share in V3 before are omitted. So all of that work, asking for permission back and forth for all those years, is apparently for naught unless they sign in and re-authorize DNA Relatives and authorize open sharing. What they previously authorized is irrelevant? Somehow, that just doesn’t seem right. Surely that can’t be true? Let’s see if we can figure this out.
I downloaded my aggregate match data for both the V3 “new experience” and V4 kit, color coded them, and combined them in one spreadsheet. Then I sorted by “Display Name.” Green rows = V3 file and red = V4 file.
I discovered some very interesting things.
- The first thing I discovered is that 23andMe counts as a match anyone who matches you, whether or not you can see their chromosome data once their results are downloaded. See Jackson and Poole, above.
- In the example above of my first 5 matches, you can see that for Jackson and Poole, their sharing choices for both V3 and V4 did not allow me to see their chromosome start or end locations, or number of SNPs. In other words, they were not sharing before and they aren’t sharing now. They are a grey (not sharing) or yellow (pending) dot on the V3 match list. On the V4 match list, anyone who has not authorized open sharing has a grey dot. For more discussion about the various dots and authorizations, see this article.
- Halston is open sharing in both versions, indicated by a purple dot on the match list. I confirmed that he is open sharing in the new version. If you have reauthorized open sharing in either the New Experience, whether you were sharing or not before is irrelevant. Open sharing (or not) in the New Experience appears to override anything you did or didn’t authorize before.
- Curtis is open sharing as well, but the end location and the number of SNPs is not the same between versions, although it is very close.
- Davis is sharing in the old version (bluegreen dot on match list), but has not reauthorized in the V4 version, so I see that Davis does match me in both versions, above, but I can only see Davis’s chromosome information in V3 – the green rows, not in the V4 red row. I can’t compare to other matches, called “Relatives in Common” in either version. The information from the V3 test about “Relatives in Common” is shown below.
This goes a long way in explaining why 23andMe says that I have 1700 (V3) and 1651 (V4) matches, but only 400 relatives in common. All of a sudden those 1700/1651 match numbers aren’t so terribly relevant or impressive anymore, because without the ability to see how I share, common surnames or a common ancestor in a tree, what is the point in even telling me that we match?
For anyone taking a V4 test, which is all that’s available now, those 400 people are the only ones I can see any chromosome information about at all. So the other 1251 people, without any tree or chromosome information, are pretty much irrelevant.
There are three equally important parts of genetic genealogy:
- That you match – at 23andMe, the list of DNA Relative matches (meaning the 1700/1651 matches)
- How/where you match – at 23andMe, the chromosome information only available with open matching in V4 (meaning the 400 matches)
- Genealogy information to go with the match – not available at 23andMe
In the V3 aggregated downloaded spreadsheet, there are a total of 1955 rows and in the V4 aggregated downloaded spreadsheet, there were a total of 1792 rows of matches. Many people match on more than one segment, which is why the discrepancy between the number of people who match and the rows of matches.
In the combined spreadsheet, there are a total of 170 rows that don’t appear in the other version. Of those 170, 153 are green, or are a V3 version match only and 17 are red, or the V4 version match only. I wouldn’t have expected any V4 only matches that are not also V3 matches. Unless 23andMe replaced some SNPs on the new chip, and didn’t just obsolete SNPs, I don’t know how one would explain these V4 only matches.
Of the 3747 total rows of matches, only 1421, or 42% actually have matching chromosome data listed. Of the 1421 total that have chromosome data, 1309 rows are listed in both the V3 and V4 versions.
1309 divided in two, for the green and red, would be about 654 in both red and green, which is getting close to the 400 common relatives that 23andMe reported. Several of those 654 rows do indeed have a second chromosome match row listed for the same person, so the 400 common relatives is certainly reasonable, working backwards, although it’s a LOT less than I expected from just looking at the total match numbers for V3 and V4 (1700/1651).
Last, it’s interesting to note for the close Denney relative shown below that not all of the start or end locations are the same, nor are the SNP counts. Furthermore, two locations aren’t listed at all in the other test. One segment on chromosome 9 of 8 cM from the red (V4) test is not listed in the V3 test results, and one segment on chromosome 13 of 16 cM in the green (V3) test is not listed in the V4 test results.
While initially, the match number of either 1700 or 1651 seems enticing, things are not as they seemed on the surface.
|V3 Green||V4 Red||Other|
|Total Matches||1700||1651||49 total or 3% difference|
|Common Relatives||400 (23.5%)||400 (24%)|
|Rows in match Spreadsheet||1955||1792||163 difference|
|Color on Spreadsheet||Green||Red|
|Non-matching People to green or red||153 don’t match V4||17 don’t match V3||170 total|
|Anonymous||1166 total, or 31%|
|Rows with Chromosome data||654 match to red||654 match to green||1420 rows total, 112 that do not have a match between V3 and V4 spreadsheets|
Why 1156 rows of matches, 31% to the total, found it necessary to list their name as “Anonymous” is beyond me. The anonymous list runs on and on.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to opt out of DNA Relatives? Perhaps in lieu of understanding that this is an option, they simply opted to list their name as anonymous. Unfortunately, they do still show as matches, inflating that match number but doing absolutely nothing else except adding an unnecessary level of frustration. All of the anonymous individuals are not sharing their chromosome data, which is to be expected, but also tells me that they figured out how not to share – so they could just as easily have opted out of DNA Relatives.
Why would 23andMe even show these people on my match list? Unfortunately, with the 2000 person cap, the anonymous people are all taking a match space, uselessly. And 31% is not a trivial number of matches – in fact it’s a larger number, 512 of 1651 matches, than the number of matches, 400 of 1651, who have authorized open sharing. That’s depressing.
Before I had V4 match data to compare to V3 new experience data and realized that I only had 400 matches in common, meaning those who are have opted into DNA Relatives and are open sharing, despite having 1651 and 1700 “matches,” respectively, I really didn’t realize how abysmal the useful matching ratio at 23andMe really is.
Until I delved into what the various options really do and don’t mean, I didn’t realize that only 400 of my matches in the V4 version were sharing their DNA chromosome results with me and had authorized DNA Relatives. That’s a very small percentage of the total.
As I did expect, for those matches found in one test and not the other, the V3 test is more productive than the V4 test, although the V4 test did have 17 matches that the V3 test did not. These 17 V4 only matches are hard to explain, because to the best of my knowledge, 23andMe did not replace any SNPs with other SNPs, although this is only logical answer that makes any sense for the V4 test matches that don’t have an equivalent V3 match – given that the V4 test is supposed to be a subset of V3. I suppose comparing the actual raw data file locations would answer that question, but I’m not motivated enough to do that. If someone else is, please add a comment to this article.
If my experience is representative of others, it would appear that people testing on the V3 chip will have more matches than the same person on the V4 chip, which makes sense because the number of testing locations is reduced on the V4 chip from about 950,000 on the V3 chip to about 577,000 on V4.
Three percent, or 49 total matches difference isn’t enough for me to worry about – especially not in light of the additional information that showed that my total useful matches weren’t 1700 or 1651, but in reality, 400 individuals in total, or about 25% of the total “matches.” If that 25% number holds on the 49 matches difference, that means that only about 12 of them would be even potentially useful.
The net-net of all of this is that there is absolutely no benefit to testing on the V4 chip if you have already tested on the V3 platform. There is no reason to order the V4 test.
The V3 test has more matches and included a much more robust health offering, so if you tested under V3, be glad that you tested when you did.
With this article, and due to the reduced functionality for genealogists that I described in the “New 23andMe Experience – In a Word, Disappointing” article, I am officially finished dealing with 23andMe. Only 400 matches who are fully sharing in the new version, with no genealogy information, just aren’t worth the associated headaches introduced by 23andMe – especially not when I have so many matches elsewhere who are interested in genealogy.
It didn’t have to be this way. 23andMe could have ported over the sharing authorizations for the V3 to the V3 New Experience and not required a new authorization set to participate in DNA Relatives with the people already previously authorized. However, I suppose a new blanket authorization requirement for everyone covers the bases for 23andMe, but it leaves us genealogists out in the cold once again. For me, that’s 325 people who were sharing in the old V3 version, but who have not authorized open sharing in the V3 New Experience, so I can’t see DNA Relatives in Common with those people now. That’s almost as many people as who have authorized open sharing.
Both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry have significantly better products for the same or less money. Furthermore, 23andMe testers who are actually really interested in genealogy will have either uploaded their results to Family Tree DNA, retested at other vendors and/or uploaded their result to GedMatch. The rest of the people who tested at 23andMe aren’t interested in genealogy, think that their previous authorizations have them covered, or would probably be the 31% of my matches who list their name as anonymous.
If the 325 V3 matches who had previously authorized sharing were combined with the 400 open sharing matches, my total would be 725, which would be 44% of my matches. Unfortunately, that’s not what 23andMe did.
Even though 23andMe clearly isn’t focused on genealogy, or genealogists, they apparently felt the financial heat of genealogists not placing orders after they raised their price to $199.
23andMe recently reverted to their $99 price for an “Ancestry Only” test, which omits the wellness and health factors. Ancestry.com’s DNA test is $99 and Family Tree DNA’s price for Family Finder is permanently reduced to $79 (or $39 to upload a 23andMe V3 file) and is paired with a lot fewer headaches, a much better user interface, trees and a focus on genealogy. I have more than enough matches at those two vendors, plus GedMatch, to keep me busy forever.
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