Misleading 23andMe Paternal Haplogroup Emails For Females

I received an email for a 23andMe kit that I manage stating “Your Paternal Haplogroup Report is waiting for you.” Really? Cool!!!

Only problem is that the tester is a female – and females don’t have a paternal haplogroup available because females don’t have Y DNA.

Clearly, this is just not possible.

Three things crossed my mind:

  1. Erroneous email, as in “oops.” Some marketing person is going to be in a heap of trouble.
  2. Incompetence following the sale of the company. There have been other recent changes that caused me to wonder, although some were reversed.
  3. Bait and switch. Surely not. 23andMe has never been like that, so this is a distant third.

I knew for an absolute fact, beyond any doubt that this close family member is female.

I also realize that any female who receives this email would excitedly check their Paternal Haplogroup report – thinking that maybe, just maybe, some new scientific discovery had been made so they CAN actually see a paternal haplogroup from their own DNA test.

Time to see what’s going on.

I Signed In

I signed in and saw an unopened Paternal Haplogroup report under “Next Reports” at the top of the main page.

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I checked another female kit that I manage, plus my own. The same thing appeared on both of those accounts too.

This e-mail was clearly not an “oops” email inadvertently sent to a female group of testers. It has to be something else.

Sure enough, on the Ancestry tab, if I scroll down, I see these two placards.

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Maternal Haplogroup, which everyone has, and Paternal Haplogroup, which only males have. Did 23andMe make some kind of mistake? I clicked on the “View Your Report” button for Paternal Haplogroup. It took me to the same page the Paternal Haplogroup link on my main page did.

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My heart just sank.

Sure enough, it’s a pitch to test another family member, a father or brother. 23andMe explains that no, the female tester really doesn’t have a paternal haplogroup.

So, it IS bait and switch, the least likely scenario I expected. I’m really disappointed. I never thought I’d see the day 23andMe would adopt this type of disingenuous marketing technique.

Why Does This Bother Me So Much?

In general, acquisitions make people uneasy, and 23andMe was acquired in February.

We don’t know what to expect of the new owners, or the direction they will take a company. In this case, the company involved, 23andMe, not only has my DNA, they provide information about my health as part of my test.

Consumers need to be able to have confidence that the information 23andMe provides is accurate. We need to be able to trust them, to believe what they tell us about our DNA results without having to wonder if there is something more, or less, in this case, to the story. In other words, that there’s no ulterior motive in their message.

I grew up on a farm and my old farmer Dad used to tell me that “if someone will lie to you about one thing, they will lie to you about anything.”

I would have NO PROBLEM whatsoever with 23andMe sending an email telling females how to obtain a paternal haplogroup for their paternal line.

There’s a significant difference, though, between that and telling female testers that their “Paternal Haplogroup report is waiting for you,” when it’s very clearly not. The email says the report “includes insights about your DNA,” which it clearly does not, because there is no report. 23andMe knows this. That email says “View Report” twice, with links. It’s not a mistake. It’s a hook, using my own DNA as bait, and I’m the fish.

This tactic is misleading, at best. In my opinion, it’s an unethical and dishonest attempt to manipulate unwary or naïve customers. And truthfully, I’m shocked. I never expected behavior like this from 23andMe. It seems so out-of-character about what I thought I understood about Ann Wojcicki. In this 2015 interview in PLOS Genetics, she said, “I think that for our mission, it’s really important that people trust the company.” What happened?

If I WAS inclined to test another family member, given this deceptive bait and switch sales tactic, I assuredly wouldn’t. Telling me I “have” something only to discover I don’t in an attempt to sell me that same “something” is just not a technique I would have expected 23andMe to embrace.

Come on 23andMe, you are, or were, better than this. ☹



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20 thoughts on “Misleading 23andMe Paternal Haplogroup Emails For Females

  1. Seeing a paternal haplogroup on a woman’s profile the other day had me scratching my head. I didn’t realize they would link from a father or brother.

  2. Hi, Ms. Roberta,
    hope all is well today.

    Thank you, once again, for “standing in the gap” for us, and keeping us up-to-date, informed and aware about important issues like this.

    I keep grappling with the temptation to tie in with 23andMe, just to see who and what shakes out, genetically and genealogically; bless your heart, you “save my potatoes” every time!! My curiosity is not worth giving my hard-earned sawbucks to an outfit that seems to deteriorate further into disreputable business practices at every turn. Heck; I’m still seething about “that other company”, because it’s been an ongoing exercise in futility to try and glean any really meaningful, useful info about the ancestors for whom I need to do the most in-depth research.

    Thanks again, for always looking out for us.☺

    Take care.

  3. Thank you for this, Roberta. Bait and Switch it is, and I too, would have thought this is beneath the standards of the company I knew before its acquisition. Lesson learned—-and I think an apology is in order from the new company.

  4. I fell for it too… thinking of the technique that GEDmatch uses to create a profile for the missing parent if one parent had tested by “subtracting” the half that can be traced back.
    They clearly do something of the kind for ethnicity, since I recall a much improved ethnicity report after my mother had tested.. But no – very cheap hook. Their marketing department has forgotten the roots of the company and the importance of referrals in this business.

  5. Many businesses are having some desperate times. People have not been doing the “normal” things they usually do. They’re not seeing people at work; not gadding about with friend, so they are not hearing about 23 and Me from their friends about their experience. This is how we help businesses in our country. Maybe things will pick up for them and everyone else. I’d give them a pass on it if too many people don’t get one. Personally, I haven’t seen a letter sent to me yet. Could have someone click some of people of the opposite sex. Maybe the “a” on the end of your name didn’t register and thought you were a Robert. 🙂

  6. It’s all about the money. And COVID does not excuse deceptive business practices. Maybe an AG in investigation could put a stop to it.

    On a related note, a question, as I know you’ve done this many times. I recently received an okay from a 5th cousin to have his Y-DNA tested at FTDNA. The results would help both of us (and of course anyone else the projects may group with us). Can I purchase the kit with his name and address and receive the results as well ? Thanks.

    • I wondered about the legality as well.

      Yes, you can purchased the kit in that way. You can also list one as a primary and secondary email.

  7. I agree with you. Gimmicks and stunts like that only cast doubt on the reputation of that company, and others.
    Thank you, Roberta, for using your platform to encourage ethical business practices in the genetic genealogy commerce community.

  8. Thank you for this article Roberta. I don’t use 23&me (it wasn’t available in Australia when I first took my DNA tests) but I know that very many do. Hopefully the company will also read your comments and change their marketing direction to something that is a lot more ethical. I am really trying not to over-react at the recent spate of purchases/mergers to non-genealogical organisations, but this type of news tends to reinforce a belief that maybe they don’t have our best interests at heart.

  9. Wholeheartedly agree!! Infuriating given their repeated steps away from supporting their genealogy base. But here is some misleading click bait to lure those pesky genealogists back in? Shame!

  10. It’s a shame, because I would really like to see this procedure implemented at FTDNA. My mother and maternal uncle are in the database, they should get my mt-DNA haplogroup as tentative one at least.

    But the problem is really the email itself. It’s like they wrote it for women who already had a male relative tested. I get that it was too complicated to make a different mailing list for women who have them and women who didn’t, but they should have written it for both instead. First paragraph “brand new feature”, second paragraph, “if you have your father or a brother with us, make sure you are linked to him and enjoy.”, third paragraph “if you don’t have a male relative tested, consider buying a test for them”.

    It this way, no one feel scammed and Roberta write an article about how to get the best out of the new feature instead. What a waste of good will.

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