12-31-2020: Update to this article. 23andMe has reversed their position and provided ethnicity updates to both V3 and V4 chip testers. The status of V2 kits is unclear. Those kits show an update date in early December, but no update tag and nothing has changed in their ethnicity results. Additionally, 23andMe has restored the matches that were removed – although it’s unclear whether or not they have simply restored existing matches or if the previous threshold of 2000 matches is back in place as well. They have also restored some search functionality, such as within user-entered notes, but not all functionality. For example, you still cannot search matches by haplogroup.
Original article begins here:
Did you test with 23andMe prior to August 2017? If you were among the millions of customers who tested in the decade between 2007 and 2017, you tested on the V1-V4 chip.
Unfortunately, 23andMe has made the decision to no longer provide ethnicity updates for customers who have NOT tested on the current V5 chip.
Moving to the V5 chip is not an upgrade – it’s a completely new test that customers must purchase and spit-to-submit again. This means that if your family member that you purchased a test for died, you’re just out of luck. Too bad – so sad.
Last week, 23andMe published this article detailing their new ethnicity improvements. Everyone was excited, but then the article ended with this spoiler at the very bottom.
I still can’t believe my eyes.
What – No Ethnicity Updates?????
In this industry, no company that I can recall has EVER failed to update ethnicity for earlier chips. Especially given that ethnicity is the hook that companies have used to entice many, many customers to test.
When FamilyTreeDNA changed from the Affymetrix chip to the Illumina chip in 2011, they retested every single customer FOR FREE.
As far as I’m concerned, this is a betrayal of the trust of 23andMe customers.
We know now that companies can easily utilize imputation for equalizing different chips for genealogy purposes. All three other major companies do exactly that with their own tests and in the case of MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, with transfers from the other three major companies, including 23andMe’s current and older chip levels. Of course, imputation “fills in blanks” with “realistic values,” which is not appropriate for medical testing – and the underlying goal of 23andMe is medical research, not genealogy
Therefore, genealogy customers are being penalized in an effort to force them to the V5 chip if they want to view their new ethnicity updates or have more than 1500 matches, and then, only with a subscription.
This “sales strategy” is simply not acceptable.
This no-ethnicity-update revelation comes on the heels of 23andMe reducing the match threshold to 1500 FOR ALL CUSTOMERS unless customers have tested on the V5 chip AND subscribe, both.
I wrote about that change, here.
That’s Not All – No Search by Common Surname or Ancestral Location
The genealogy community continues to discover more losses. Hat tip to my blog subscriber who noticed that customers can no longer search by common surname or ancestral location.
23andMe confirmed that change in an email saying:
- You can search for profile names and current locations in the DNA Relatives search section.
Wow, I don’t want my matches knowing where I currently live. is that really what’s happening? Surely not.
But sure enough, here’s one of my matches, minus their name of course.
This gives me cold chills. This information should never, ever, be available unless the tester gives it directly to another specific person.
Why would 23andMe ever implement a feature like this that causes potential physical security risks to their customers? I’d wager most people have no idea that this information is displayed to all of their matches. Fortunately, it’s only displayed if you specifically enter the information.
To check your location status, remove or update this information, click on the down arrow beside your name in the upper right-hand corner of your 23andMe page, then on “Settings”.
Scroll down and click on “Edit Enhanced Profile.”
Make any changes.
This is also the section where you enter other information that will help you connect with matches in a meaningful way. Be sure to share a link to a family tree someplace. While 23andMe is discontinuing some of the features that are important for genealogists, that makes it even more important to utilize the remaining features.
23andMe also confirmed that:
- You can no longer search for family surnames, other locations, or any other user entered information.
This change is infinitely sad, because surnames, especially unusual ones are critically important to genealogists, and in combination with locations.
You can filter by ancestor birthplaces, but that only means through the grandparent level.
Not terribly useful for genealogists, and the US is a very big place. Knowing someone’s grandparents were born in the US is not helpful. However, if I have an ancestor from a location like Germany, this might be more useful.
You can also filter by SOME of your family surnames, but not all of them. Apparently, only your top 20 in terms of how many people share that surname. Just take a guess which one is highest on my list. Probably yours too.
My own surname and that of all 4 of my grandparents is missing from this list. I don’t find an ancestral surname until one of my great-grandparents’ surnames, Miller, appears. This list is really only a list of the most common surnames in the US that I happen to have in my genealogy.
No Haplogroup Search
Another feature that has disappeared is the ability to search your DNA Relatives by haplogroup. Granted, they were only partial haplogroups, but they could rule out a lineage connection to your direct matrilineal line or, if a male, your patrilineal line. If you knew your grandparents or other haplogroup lineages, you could do the same for them.
But not anymore
Where Are the Genealogists?
How has 23andMe moved so far away from the genealogy community? This feels like death by 1000 tiny cuts. Whittling away our features along with our trust.
At one time, 23andMe had a genealogy ambassadors program where experienced genealogical ambassadors represented the genealogy community and provided input. Unfortunately, 23andMe dissolved the program a year or so ago, but then again, they didn’t seem to listen much to their ambassadors anyway.
Health AND Ancestry
23andMe is increasingly pushing the health AND ancestry test on the V5 chip. I’d wager their medical and research partners want specific data on this chip that’s not available on previous versions.
When clicking on my V4 account, the upgrade available is only for both health and ancestry. There is no “ancestry only” test available like there used to be.
The $99 price for the V5 upgrade is the same for my V3 kit. Yes, I tested twice (three times actually on V2, V3, and V4) to understand the matching differences between the V3 and the V4 chip.
Truthfully, given the way 23andMe is treating their current clients, I have absolutely no desire to gift them with my health information to turn into revenue.
Consent or WithDraw Consent to Share Genetic Information
While 23andMe can utilize research information from surveys in some ways without your explicit consent, assuming you answer their surveys, which I do not, they currently don’t share your genetic data unless you opt-in to consent.
I’m not comfortable with not knowing who is using my DNA information and for what research purpose – but your comfort level may vary. 23andMe’s “designer baby” patent in 2013 ended my participation in research.
If you click on “Research,” then “Surveys and Studies,” 23andMe will remind you if you haven’t opted in for research.
You can check your current consent status by scrolling to the bottom of this page after you sign in.
You will see your current consent status, and you have the ability to update your status with a different choice. Please read every document provided before consenting.
You can also access your Research Consent and other account settings by clicking on the down arrow by your name, at the far right top, and then on “Settings.”
Research Consent is very near the bottom, under Preferences.
May the Fleas of 1000 Camels Infest Your Armpits
May fleas infest your armpits, 23andMe, for removing the services and features that genealogists purchased and expect to continue to receive. Worse yet, you’ve damaged our collective credibility, because we’ve been recommending 23andMe to our family members and friends for years now, and purchasing kits for them, all in good faith. Now, we get the opportunity to apologize to our family members for your behavior. We trusted you, and we shouldn’t have.
In the past, 23andMe has always updated ethnicity for everyone. New medical and health reports weren’t always added, ostensibly because the necessary genetic locations weren’t on older chips, but genealogy features and updates were never held hostage before – nor was existing functionality removed except for trees.
In retrospect, the removal of trees was probably the first sign that 23andMe was seriously moving away from genealogists and was only paying lip-service in order to obtain our DNA for the very lucrative medical research business.
I haven’t always agreed with the decisions made by 23andMe in the past, but this time, I feel that 23andMe is intentionally acting disingenuously – blatantly arm-twisting their long-time genealogy customers by withholding updates we have every right to expect. Odd way to treat the community that stood by 23andMe and kept buying tests while the FDA had their health and medical reports shut down for two years, from 2013 to 2015 when they finally reached an agreement and began selling their health product again.
As a customer, your only recourse, other than complaining, which I encourage you to do (customercare@23andMe.com), is to opt-out of research consent. 23andMe may not hear our voices or care about our ethnicity or matches, but I bet they will notice the revocation of consent. Our DNA is a cash-cow for 23andMe as a DNA-broker.
Your other alternative to receive your updated ethnicity results, of course, is to purchase an upgrade and pay to test, again. Just like the only way to get more than 1500 matches is to upgrade plus pay a subscription fee – and then you’re still limited to 5000 matches. Upgrade or not, you won’t receive the other features they’ve removed.
Truthfully, there’s no way in bloody h*ll that a company is going to get me to spend MORE money by abusing my trust and attempting to strong-arm me in this fashion. Nada. That’s simply not going to happen.
I’d wager that treating genealogists in this manner is a very short-sighted strategy. We talk within this community and make recommendations to each other. 23andMe is generating a great deal of bad-will right now.
I left wondering what else existing customers will lose, and when the V5 customers will be arm-twisted to purchase a new test, yet again.
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DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- FamilyTreeDNA – Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testing
- MyHeritage DNA – ancestry autosomal DNA only, not health
- MyHeritage DNA plus Health
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload – transfer your results from other vendors free
- AncestryDNA – autosomal DNA only
- 23andMe Ancestry – autosomal DNA only, no Health
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
Genealogy Products and Services
- MyHeritage FREE Tree Builder – genealogy software for your computer
- MyHeritage Subscription with Free Trial
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars – genealogy and DNA classes, subscription-based, some free
- Legacy Family Tree Software – genealogy software for your computer
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – professional genealogy research