23andMe V3 vs V4 Comparison

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.

Here’s a link to the 23andMe Privacy Statement and the Terms of Service.

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.


DNA Collection

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.

V4 Ethnicity

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.


Ethnicity Summary

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.

Matching Summary

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.

The End

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.

New 23andMe Experience – In a Word, Disappointing

Almost a year after the 23andMe “new experience” was promised “shortly” and then subsequently promised by 2015 year end, it’s finally here. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s September of 2016. I could have gestated a baby in less time. However, let’s take a look at the new experience process and features. I’m going to record each step in this new experience since I’ve finally transitioned.

Unfortunately, the new experience began with the 23andMe system either being very slow or not working at all, so I’ve pieced this together from several attempts over a couple of weeks. You’d think for as much as the new test costs, $199, twice that of their competitors and their own old test, they could at least have a reasonable system response time. If that happens as fast as the New Experience, it will be another year. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I saw this screen.


22andMe, you should be embarrassed. Really!

The “New 23andMe”

I thought the day would never arrive, but I did finally receive this e-mail:


Before we start reviewing the process and features, I want to mention that I did find an old to new feature converter, of sorts, provided by 23andMe. It’s not terribly useful, but it might be worth reviewing.

When you can get on and stay on the 23andMe system, you will see the following:


The system did not default to “me,” but to another one of the kits I manage. The next screen was to select primary profile.

My birth date was required. This is bothersome to me. It was never required before, and frankly, it’s none of their business. I answered it truthfully, only because I was afraid it would be part of a security question someplace down the line.

The next screen is shown below asking about your DNA Relatives Preferences. Apparently your old preferences don’t port to the new experience, at least not in total.


Here’s the infamous open sharing question that is supposed to replace all of the asking for permission to communicate and then asking for permission to share DNA segments. I say “supposed to,” because there is still a non-trivial amount of confusion surrounding options, as you’ll see shortly, but if you’re going to particulate in 23andMe for genealogy, do be sure to answer “yes.”


Here is what 23andMe has to say about the new open sharing option.


Next, you can review your profile and verify, add to or change your information.


I personally think that displaying birth year is a potential security issue.



Next, 23andMe prompts you to compete a Health Profile.

The Health Profile started with a question marital status, which is again, none of their business. You can tell that their focus has really shifted to gathering information about you at every opportunity.

I’m not interested in providing them with any additional information they can then sell, so I’m not answering these questions.


You can opt instead to go to the home page, which is your new main account page, shown below.


You can see your account status information and the information available to you. All of the old functions have been redesigned, renamed or obsoleted. Figuring out which is which, and where, is like a scavenger hunt combined with a snipe hunt.

Ok, now you’re ready to begin looking around the new 23andMe site. I have a feeling that their earliest testers were some of the last to be converted, so if you’re already doing all of this, apologies. However, maybe you’ll learn something from my experiences or maybe you have something to add from your own!

Ancestry aka Ethnicity

Let’s start with Ancestry and the 3 reports 23andMe is showing. As a genealogist, I’m interested in the genealogy aspect of the 23andMe reports.

These are what we generally refer to as the ethnicity reports.


Let’s look first at Ancestry Composition


Where did the ethnicity display mapped onto my chromosome go? Aha, it’s under Scientific Details – not what I would expect under that tab, but here it is.


These colors are very difficult to distinguish from one another.

The bar above the browser shifts from Speculative to Conservative.

If you have a parent in the system, there used to be a “split view” where you could see your DNA “ancestry” as compared to that parent. That functionality is still there and is called “Inheritance View.”

I found the older “view” much easier to see and discern between the coloration. Here’s an example provided by 23andMe of the old versus the new.



Ok, let’s see if I can find my matches on this new system. Hmm, looking under tools, I see DNA Relatives, so I’ll click there. This used to be the Family Inheritance Advanced functionality.

I get to watch a tutorial first.


Looks like the new matching limit is 2000, a welcome increase. But why a match limit at all? Neither Family Tree DNA nor Ancestry have a match limit.


And of course the chromosome browser comparison. Interesting, they tell you THAT it’s available, but they don’t show you where to find this functionality. You’ll see that this becomes important later on.


Even though I’ve already opted into open sharing, I have to opt in again here and click on “View DNA Relatives.”


One thing that really bothers me is that after I clicked on “View DNA Relatives” as opposed to “I do not want to participate,” I could not go back or otherwise change that selection. I tried the settings option, by clicking on the profile name, and it appears that there is no option to rescind this permission.

DNA Relatives

Here is the list of my DNA Relatives. If you’re comparing this to a previous list, all of the information is missing on this page that was visible before, like haplogroups, genealogy surnames, etc., which made it easy to see at a glance.

There is however, a color coded sharing “dot” but with no legend, so I have NO IDEA who is sharing and who isn’t – or exactly what that means. Furthermore, I’m not colorblind, but the dot is so small (and I have 27 inch monitors) that I can’t tell if the dots are blue, green or some blue and some green – or maybe they are bluegreen.

After the fact, I stumbled on to the legend in the “sort by” box, but after reviewing the results, the legend makes no sense when seeing the sharing options and my cousins.

Let’s take a look.


So, the sharing legend is as follows:

  • Purple – open sharing
  • Blue/green – sharing
  • Yellow – Pending
  • Grey – not sharing

Let’s take a look at matches.

Blue Dot Match

According to the legend, a blue dot means sharing.


In order to see additional information, I click on my matches’ profile. Let’s start with my cousin Cheryl who has a blue dot.  I was sharing with Cheryl before the transition.


I can see my overlapping DNA with Cheryl, I can see her haplogroup and ethnicity, but at the bottom of the page, I cannot see any relatives in common because Cheryl has not participated in Open Sharing, according to the bottom of the screen shot below – although the blue/green dot indicates sharing, according to the legend. So does that mean we were sharing before (we were), but she has not clicked on open sharing since? And if so, what affect does that have? Which features and options are available under which kinds of old and new sharing combinations?  If Cheryl was sharing entirely with me before, which she was, why isn’t that sharing permission coming over into the new experience?  Why does she have to “reauthorize” sharing, if she has already given permission to share with me.  I’m confused, and let me say right here, that this question was never resolved.


On the right hand side of the page is a place to type a message and send to my match.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, whatever your perspective, my closest matches are people I know well and was sharing with before.  This does make it much easier to do comparisons between the old and new experiences.

Let’s check another blue dot cousin.

Blue Dot Match 2

The next cousin’s information that I checked invited me to take a look at his tree. Now, that’s interesting because I didn’t think that 23andMe had trees anymore, so I clicked on this link.

Aha, I can see his tree, but the message above the tree says this:


“As of May 1, 2015, the 23andMe Family Tree is view-only, and you are no longer able to edit or update your tree.  Your tree will remain available in this format in your account.  To edit or download your tree, import your tree data to MyHeritage.”

Of course, any tree with more than 250 people is not free at MyHeritage.

The match to this cousin says that he shows 103 surnames, but there is no matching surname feature to help me narrow down our matching surnames.


There should be no difference between this cousin’s sharing status and the first cousin, because they are both blue, and we were sharing before the transition, but I can’t see his “Relatives in Common” either.

So far, this is very discouraging, because I can’t do or see what I could before with the same people who have previously authorized sharing.  I know, in one case, that the person is no longer actively involved in genealogy and that means that I’ve lost functionality because they can’t or won’t “reauthorize” sharing.  Why should they need to?

Let’s move on.

Grey Dot Match

My third cousin has a grey dot and he is not participating in open sharing, so I can’t see his ancestry report, which I’m presuming here are my chromosome matches with him, or the Relatives in Common. Ironically, he had a profile message that says, “Just interested in learning more about my heritage and family history…”

Clearly he doesn’t understand the sharing options either.

Yellow Dot Match

Let’s try a cousin with a yellow sharing dot, which means pending, although I’m not sure exactly what is pending, where, and with whom.


Ok, this says that she is not sharing, in the top left corner, but that she has sent me a request to share Ancestry Reports. I’m open sharing, so why do I need to approve a request to share ancestry reports, and where do I do that?

23andMe does, however, show me our chromosome matches AND our relatives in common, even though we are supposedly “not sharing,” so I have no idea at all what else I would see if we were sharing.  In this case, what, exactly does “not sharing” mean and what else would I see by sharing?  Bizarre.


I notice that she has send me a message. Messages show in the right hand margin.  That’s a nice feature, but still not as nice as the ability to e-mail someone directly.

Purple Dot Match

Last, let’s try a cousin with the purple open sharing dot.

Well, this is really confusing, because it says that they are not sharing, but again, I can see our chromosome matches. That looks like sharing to me!  I clearly don’t understand what “not sharing” means.  It’s pretty much clear as mud.


I see a message at the bottom for me to request to share Ancestry Reports with her. However, I’m open sharing and since she has a purple dot, supposedly, so is she.


23andMe has really made a mess of “sharing,” both in terms of implementation, it appears, and assuredly in terms of explanation.  There is not one category of “sharing,” including when both people are open sharing in the new system, or when both people have previously authorized sharing in the old system, where I can see every category in the new system.

Chromosome Browser 5 Person Comparison

I spent a lot of time hunting for the ability to compare the 5 people in the chromosome browser, although minute by minute, I was quickly reaching the “I don’t care” point.

Under the DNA Relatives Tutorial, it clearly says you CAN compare up to 5 relatives, and this page says you can too, but where and how? 23andMe omitted a rather critical piece of information, it seems.


Please note that the above screen is displayed in Windows 10 using Internet Explorer, and if you scroll right, you can see more of the second column, but that’s all.

I finally found the Chromosome Browser that allows a comparison of up to 5 people, shown below. However, the function does not work correctly under Windows 10 with Internet Explorer. I switched to Edge and I could then see the compare option.  Believe it or not, it’s the same screen as above, but it doesn’t work correctly under Windows 10/Internet Explorer.


Half Versus Fully Identical Segments

Another feature that appears to have gone missing in the “New Experience” is the ability to see half versus fully identical segments.

Half siblings will have NO fully identical segments, because while they both inherited DNA from their common parent, the other parent was different, so no segments that they have should match at the same address on both chromosomes, meaning the chromosome they received from their mother and the chromosome they received from their father.

On the other hand, full siblings will have a non-trivial amount of fully identical segments, and this comparison was the easiest way to unquestionably tell a half from a full sibling. The previous version showed you segments that were half identical and fully identical, color coded.  The new version does not and only reports half identical segments.

When comparing my V3 test to my V4 test, 23andMe indicates that I am a “twin” to myself, so all of my segments should be fully identical when compared to myself, but looking at the comparison, only the half identical segments are reported now.


Here’s an example (below) at GedMatch of the half versus full functionality.  The screen shot below shows my Ancestry V1 kit compared to my FTDNA kit.  You can see by the legend that the green bar indicates a full match and the yellow bar indicates a half match.  On chromosomes 1 and 2, which is all that I’ve shown, you can see the tiny sliver of yellow segments where one kit or the other doesn’t read the same address, so at that location, there is a mismatch of some sort.  At every “normal” location, I match myself fully because I’m my own “identical twin” as far as the system is concerned, and I share both parents DNA fully when compared to myself, so a “full match.”


Furthermore, at 23andMe can you view the DNA comparison results in a table, but you can’t download them yet to a spreadsheet, although 23andMe indicates that this functionality is coming. However, it used to work.

Downloading Aggregate Data

At the bottom of the DNA Relatives page, I found the Download Aggregate Data button. The “Save As” did not work correctly under Windows 10/Internet Explorer, but I was able to open the file, then save it.

Share and Compare

I get to watch another tutorial. The Share and Compare function seems to be primarily for people who have immediate family who have tested, such as parents, grandparents or siblings.


The sharing and comparing all seems to be health except for Ancestry which is ethnicity. At the bottom, you can scroll through your matches and click on one to compare, and you’ll see much the same information as in the DNA Relatives section. If they are sharing health information, you’ll see more, such as traits.

Let’s see what else 23andMe has to offer.


On the Tools toolbar, I selected “All Tools.” We haven’t checked out “Family Tree” yet, so let’s do that. I didn’t think 23andMe had tree functionality anymore. Maybe this is a welcome surprise!


The Family Tree link takes you directly to MyHeritage. So no surprise, at least not a good one. Too bad.

Previous Health Reports

Because I tested prior to the 23andMe run-in with the FDA, my previous health reports are archived in the “Reports Archive.” I must say that the new traits are, for the most part, simply cocktail party conversation as compared to what we received before, and for half the price of current testing.

V3 testers do not receive the “Carrier Status” report, and this is the only test that is offered today that is actually medical in nature.

I would strongly suggest that anyone who actually wants health information test at either Ancestry.com for $99 or Family Tree DNA for $79 and then upload their results file to Promethease for $5. You’ll get a lot more than the very abbreviated 23andMe V4 information that costs $199.

Notice 23andMe doesn’t call the current product(s) health reports, but “wellness reports.” I think this is borderline deceptive except perhaps for Carrier Status.


Interestingly enough, both the Carrier Status and Traits reports under V4 require you to take an ethnicity survey before they show you your results, as does the Traits report under V3.

However, ethnicity is one of the things they are supposed to be telling you – in fact that’s one of the primary reasons people take these tests. So why do you have to tell them?


Download your Raw Data

Do download your raw data. You can upload it to GedMatch, to Promethease or depending on when you tested (after V2 and before V4, in November 2013) you can upload the file to Family Tree DNA for $39 in lieu of the $79 Family Finder test. The raw data download option is now under “Tools” on the toolbar.


You have to click on “I Understand” that you might discover sensitive health information about yourself or a family member.


On the first page below where you see the title “Your Raw Data,” click on the blue download button.


I encourage you to download your data while you are on the system, because it can be much, MUCH more difficult later, as I documented in this article.

Summary – Thumbs Down!!!!

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing at 23andMe anymore for genealogists, especially when compared to the other testing companies, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, who have both improved their offerings over the past several months.

23andMe provides fewer tools than they did previously to help genealogists identify their ancestors. As the other companies are making strides going forward, 23andMe is moving backwards.

23andMe doesn’t even provide anything as basic and simple as showing common surnames or a tree, both provided by Family Tree DNA and Ancestry. The new 23andMe interface is miserable and confusing, at best – for example – “sharing” which obviously doesn’t really mean sharing.  The new system is certainly not intuitive or written with a focus on genealogy, and their system times out horribly, outright fails and doesn’t work correctly with Internet Explorer on Windows 10. Many of the previous features used by genealogists have been obsoleted in this new version. Other than that, it’s wonderful (tongue firmly in cheek.)

As far as I’m concerned, genealogy testing at 23andMe is nothing more than a lure for 23andMe to obtain your DNA and answers to personal questions that are none of their business in order to utilize both for their own financial purposes.

Genealogists pulled 23andMe through the knothole by recommending them for testing when the FDA stopped 23andMe’s health testing. However, 23andMe, instead of enhancing their product for the genealogy market, has removed functionality, such as trees, Countries of Ancestry and full versus half identical segment identification – in essence stabbing genealogists in the back.

Both Family Tree DNA with their many tools and Ancestry, even without a chromosome browser, are both better choices. If it’s ethnicity testing you’re looking for, which is 23andMe’s strong point for genealogy, utilize either of the other vendors plus the many ethnicity (admixture) options at GedMatch.

The only person I would recommend 23andMe to now would be an adoptee looking for a very close match who did not find what they were looking for by testing with Family Tree DNA or Ancestry. In other words, I would only recommend 23andMe as a distant third and only in a pinch. For the normal genealogist, the other two vendors’ data bases and tools have become so large and robust that there just isn’t any reason to test at 23andMe.

I will continue to periodically check the 23andMe site, not for genealogy, but because I believe my father had additional children and I still have hopes of finding them or their children. I wish that 23andMe had implemented an option for notification of “immediate or close family” matches, but then again, they would have to be focused on genealogy in order to do that.

I have written one more article comparing the 23andMe V3 versus the V4 test matching and ethnicity, which holds some real surprises, but aside from publishing that article and an occasional check for my father’s possible offspring, I’m done with 23andMe, completely, entirely, finit, kaput, forever. I didn’t even bother to integrate my match file again in my DNA Master Spreadsheet. Downloading data with no corresponding ability to contact the tester (aside from the 23andMe message system on a website not functioning property), with an extremely low response rate, no trees and not even matching surnames isn’t fun, it’s simply frustrating.

23andMe is now far more work than pleasure and I’m simply done with them. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve had 3 years now to get their act together since the FDA issue…and they haven’t. The “new experience” has gotten worse, not better. The only positive aspect of the new experience is the new limit of 2000 matches, compared to no limit at the other vendors, open sharing, although there is still confusion surrounding that, and the fact that multiple profiles are now managed separately – thankfully. The other vendors have never been this unnecessarily complex relative to open sharing or multiple accounts, so they don’t have a corresponding mess to unravel.

There is a great irony here, because with 23andMe being the first vendor in the autosomal marketspace that was commercially viable could have owned the show, but they’ve blown it, over and over again. And they just blew it one last time.

I give the 23andMe “new experience” a big thumbs down.

How Much DNA Do We Share? It Depends

I was curious how testing the same two people at the 3 different vendors, then uploading the results from those different vendors to GedMatch and repeating the matching process there would affect the amount of DNA reported as matching.

I have a third cousin who has tested at all 3 labs independently, meaning they did not upload a file from either 23andMe or Ancestry to Family Tree DNA. Furthermore, they downloaded their 23andMe and Family Tree DNA files to GedMatch. They have not downloaded their Ancestry results to GedMatch, so I can’t do the Ancestry to Ancestry comparison, unfortunately.

So, we have one pair of third cousins, 3 individual vendor tests (each) and 8 independent answers to the question, “How much DNA do we share?”.

First, the theoretical expected average (as reported on the ISOGG wiki page) is 53 cM for third cousins. Blaine Bettinger’s actual findings through the shared cM project indicate an average of 79 cM for third cousins, and the actual range found is 0-198 cM, after removing outliers. This isn’t the first time in genetic genealogy that we’ve found that the theoretical or expected results aren’t what really happens as we learn more about how DNA actually works.

Let’s see how reality stacks up for our third cousin pair.

Vendor Threshold Total cM Total Segments Largest Segment Est Relationship
Theoretical 3C Average, Actual Average and Actual Range 53 ISOGG, 79 Actual, Range(0-198)
At Vendors
FTDNA 7cM/500 SNPs 149*** 22 33.52 2nd-3rd cousin
23andMe 7cM/700 SNPs 134 6 40.8 2nd-3rd cousin
Ancestry V1 5cM after Timber** 132 8 Not provided 3rd-4th cousin
At GedMatch
GedMatch 1* (23andMe V3 to 23andMe V3) 7cM/700 SNP 147 6 43.7 3.3 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 2* (FTDNA to FTDNA) 7cM/700 SNP 136 6 43.7 3.4 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 3* (23andMe V3 to FTDNA) 7cM/700 SNP 136 6 43.7 3.4 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 4* (Ancestry V1 to 23andMe V3) 7cM/700 SNPs 147.5 6 43.7 3.3 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 5* (Ancestry V1 to FTDNA) 7cM/700 SNPs 147.5 6 43.7 3.3 gen to MRCA****

Total cM is rounded except for 147.5, which doesn’t round in either direction.

*GedMatch at default setting which is currently 7cM and 700 SNPs.

**Unknown if SNPs are being utilized at Ancestry as a threshold parameter, and if so, the threshold is unknown.

***Total cM at Family Tree DNA includes small segments if you match. At 23andMe and GedMatch, total segments means only the total number of segments over the match threshold. The number at Family Tree DNA would be 112 cM if only counting segments greater than 5cM and 107 if only counting cM greater than 7. Of note, in my comparison, there no matching segments between 5.48 and 11.09, so this may be an unusual circumstance.

****The actual generations to a common recent ancestor (MRCA) is 4, counting our parents as generation 1.  It is unclear whether GedMatch counts you as generation 1 or your parents as generation 1.

Results like this are a perfect illustration of why relationship ranges based on DNA are ranges, not absolutes. I know, unquestionably that my cousin is my third cousin. However, were I to utilize ONLY the averages, I would be looking at either a 2nd cousin utilizing the theoretical numbers or a 2nd cousin once removed utilizing the real average, neither of which are accurate in this case.  Averages are made up of everyone in the range, smallest to largest – and in this case, the results fall into the larger than average category.

All of the Total cM numbers are two to three times the theoretical expected Total cM, but all of the Total cMs are still within the observed and reported range for third cousins.

For more on relationship ranges, theoretical expected versus actual and ranges as reported from crowd sourced information see here and here and here.

Blaine Bettinger provides a free download of his latest Shared cM Project results, which includes a great chart on the last page that provides a minimum, average and max cM shown for each relationship type. Thanks Blaine, for this very useful tool!

23andMe Reminder – V2 and V3 Customers – June 2 Last Day to Make Changes to Preserve Health Information

Some people have reported that they have not received an e-mail from 23andMe asking them to update their settings.

This e-mail would only pertain to people who tested before the v4 chip, so before the FDA shutdown in November of 2013.

My e-mail said that I only had until June 2 to make the changes to preserve my health information that was provided to customers before the shutdown.  The new information provided by 23andMe for the v4 chip since 23andMe and the FDA reached an agreement is different and only a subset of what former customers received.  23andMe is preserving the health reports of the earlier customers as downloadable pdf files but you MUST MAKE your selections soon and you will not be able to change those selections after the transition, and I’m assuming, in my case, not after June 2.  Some people reported that their e-mail said June 9th.

If you are uncertain whether or not you are one of the people involved in this transition, and you don’t know if you need to do anything, sign into your 23andMe account. If you see this blue banner at the top of your greeting page, you do indeed need to make these selections and verify your settings in order to preserve as much of your health information as you desire.  For example, if you have locked reports, you’ll need to unlock them or that information will forever be unavailable.

23andme blue banner

The blue banner doesn’t provide you with the drop-dead date, but to be safe, assume it is June 2 and make your selections now.

Instructions for 23andMe Users Still on “Old Experience”

23andMe announced a transition to a “new experience” in October 2015 after their settlement with the FDA.   The transition included differing services and a web redesign, and began in early November, 2015 with completion promised by the end of the year.  Unfortunately, they never indicated which year.

Since that time, some accounts have been transitioned, but older accounts, meaning accounts that had tested prior to the issue with the FDA, remain on the “old experience,” with diminished functionality. In case you’re counting, that’s about 7 months.

Questions remained about what information would be provided to customers who tested prior to the FDA order that stopped 23andMe from providing customers with the health information, and whether or not those customers would be required to upgrade.

Earlier this week, 23andMe announced new tools for their “new experience accounts” which made those of us stuck in the “old experience” feel like even less valued customers, to say the least, and trust me, I’m being kind here.  One would think that 23andMe would have focused all of their efforts on transitioning all of their customers before providing new tools for some.

Today, I received this e-mail telling me that my account is scheduled to be transitioned by….wait for it….the end of….August. Yes, August, I think that’s August this year, although it’s important to note that they don’t specify a year.

This is Memorial Day weekend, so maybe by Labor Day. Seriously?  Wow…that’s service!

23andMe Transition

23andMe Transition2

23andMe Transition3

This e-mail does include valuable information regarding the results of the more robust health information that was provided to customers prior to the FDA shutdown that occurred in November 2013.  Our results will be available as a pdf file in an archive.  It’s important for legacy 23andMe users to note that selections made now will reflect what is actually archived and cannot be changed later.

You can read more detailed information here.

However, you must make your selections by June 2, 2016 in order for 23andMe to be able to transition your account by the end of August (no year indicated), so don’t delay. June 2 is only 6 days away.  If this makes you feel like “hurry up and wait,” you’re not alone.

Assuming 23andMe actually is able to comply with this promised transition date, that will be roughly 10 months from the beginning of the transition process, which was supposed to be complete 8 months ago. To put things in perspective, I could have gotten pregnant, gestated a full-term child and given birth in this amount of time. Just saying.

Beware The Sale of Your DNA – Just Because You Can Upload Doesn’t Mean You Should

You know something is coming of age when you begin to see knockoffs, opportunists – or ads on late night TV. As soon as someone figures out they can make money from something, rest assured, they will.

In the past few weeks, we’re beginning to see additional “opportunities” for places to upload your DNA files. Each of them has something to “give” you in return.  You can view this as genuine, or you can view this as bait – or maybe some of each.

So far, each of them also seems to have an agenda that is NOT serving us or our DNA – but serving only or primarily them. I’m not saying this is good or bad – that depends on your perspective – but I am saying that we need to be quite aware of a variety of factors before we participate or upload our autosomal DNA results.

Some sites are more straightforward than others.

I have already covered the fact that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell your DNA to whomever for whatever they see fit.

Truthfully, I always knew that 23andMe was focused on health, but I mistakenly presumed it was on the study of diseases like Parkinson’s. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, so I had a personal stake in that game.  When their very first patent was for “designer babies,” I felt shell-shocked, stupid, naïve, duped and taken advantage of. I had willingly opted-in and contributed my information with the idea that I was contributing to Parkinson’s research, while in reality, my DNA may have been used in the designer baby patent research.  I have no way of knowing and I had no idea that’s the type of research they were doing.

Parkinson’s yes, designer babies no.  It’s a personal decision, but once your DNA is being utilized or sold, it can be used for anything and you have no control whatsoever.  While I was perfectly willing to participate in surveys and have my DNA utilized for a cure for diseases, in particular Parkinson’s, I was not and am not willing for my DNA to be utilized for things like designer babies so the wealthy can select blue eyed, blonde haired children carrying the genes most likely to allow them to become athletes or cheerleaders.

And once the DNA cat is out of the bag, so to speak, there is no putting it back in. In some cases, you can opt out of identified data, but you can’t opt out of what has already been used, and in many cases, you can’t opt out of having your anonymized data sold.

So, let me give you an example of just how much protection anonymizing your data will give you.

Anonymized Data

Let’s say that someone in one of those unknown firms wants to know who I am. All they have to do is drop my results into GedMatch and my name is right there, along with my e-mail.

Have a fake name at Gedmatch? Well, think for a minute of the adoption search groups and how they identify people, sometimes very quickly and easily by their matches.  Everyday.

Not to mention, my children (and my parents, were they living) are very clearly identifiable utilizing my DNA. So while my DNA is mine, and legally belongs to me, it’s not entirely ONLY mine.

The promise of anonymized data by stripping out your identifying information has become somewhat of a hollow promise today. In a recent example, a cholesterol study volunteer recognized “herself” in a published paper, but was not notified of the results. In an earlier paper, several Y DNA volunteers were identified as well. Ironically, Dr. Erlich, now having formed DNA.Land and soliciting DNA uploads was involved with this unmasking.

Knowing what I know today, I would NEVER have tested at 23andMe and I would have to think very long and hard about Ancestry. The hook that Ancestry has, of course, is all of those DNA plus matching trees.  Is having my anonymized DNA sold worth that?  I don’t really know.  For me, it’s too late for an Ancestry decision, because I’ve already tested there and you cannot opt out of having your anonymized data sold.

I already had an Ancestry subscription, but some testers don’t realize they have to have at least a minimum level subscription to receive all of the benefits of testing at Ancestry. That could certainly be a rude awakening – and unexpected when they purchased the test.  The $49 DNA base subscription is not available on Ancestry’s website either – you have to know about it and call support to purchase that level.  I’m sure most people simply purchase the normal subscription or do without.

One thing is for sure, our DNA is worth a lot of money to both research and Big Pharm, and apparently worth a lot of effort as well, given how many people are attempting to capture our DNA for sale.

In the past few weeks, there have been several new sites that have come online relative to autosomal DNA uploading and testing.

But before we talk about those, I’d like to take a moment for education.

The Sanger Survey

Sanger survey

I’d like to suggest that you take a few minutes to view the videos associated with the Sanger Institute DNA survey here. I think the videos do a good job of explaining at least some of the issues facing people about the usage of their DNA.  Of course, you have to take their survey to see the videos at each step – but it’s good food for thought and they do allow you to make comments.

So, please, take a few minutes for this survey before proceeding.

Genes and US

One of the first “sidebar” companies to appear in September 2014 was at the site   http://www.genesand.us/ which is now nonfunctional.

I took screen shots at that time, since I was going to write an article about what seemed quite interesting.


It was a free service that offered to “find the best genes that you can give to your child.” You had to test at 23andMe, then upload both you and your partner’s raw DNA files and they would provide you with results.

I did just that, and the screen shot below shows the partial results. There were several pages.


At the end of this section was a question asking if I wanted to “speak to a doctor about any of these benefits.” I didn’t, but I did want to know if gene selection was actual possible and being implemented.  I found the site’s contact information.  I sent this e-mail, which was never answered.


So let me ask you…where is my and my husband’s DNA today? I uploaded it.  Who has it?  Was this just a ploy to obtain our DNA files?  And for what purpose?  Who were these people anyway?  They are gone without a trace today.


More recently, in the fall of 2015, DNA.Land came upon the scene.

As of today, 22,000+ people have uploaded their autosomal DNA files.


What does DNA.Land offer the genealogist?

A different organization’s view of your ethnicity as well as relative matching to others who upload.

The quality and reliability of these enticements offered by companies in exchange for our DNA files may vary widely. For example, when DNA.Land launched, their matching routine didn’t find immediate family members.  No product should ever be launched in an alpha state, which calls into question the quality of the rest of their products and research.  That matching problem has reportedly been fixed.

The second enticement they offer is an ethnicity tool.

I can’t show you my example, because I have not uploaded my DNA to DNA.Land.   However, a genetic genealogy colleague conducted an interesting experiment.

TL Dixon uploaded four DNA files in late April 2016. He tested twice at 23andMe, both tests being the v3 version, and twice at Ancestry, in 2012 and 2014, and uploaded all 4 files to DNA.Land to see what the results would be, comparatively.

TL 23andMe test 1

23andMe v3 test 1

TL 23andme test 2

23andMe v3 test 2

TL Ancestry test 1 2014

Ancestry test from 2014

TL Ancestry test 2 2012

Ancestry test from 2012

We all know that ethnicity testing as a whole is not terribly reliable, but is the most reliable on the continent level, meaning Africa vs Europe vs Asia vs Native American. Given that these raw data files are from the same testing companies, on the same chip platform, for the same person, the Ancestry 2012 and 2014 ethnicity results from DNA.Land are quite different from each other relative to African vs Eurasian DNA, and also from the 23andMe results – even at the continent level.  Said another way, both 23andme results and the Ancestry 2014 results are very similar, with the Ancestry 2012 test, shown last, being the outlier.

Thanks to TL Dixon for both his multiple testing and sharing his results. According to TL’s known family history, the two 23andMe and the Ancestry 2014 kits are closest to accurate.  Just as an aside, TL, surprised by the differing results, utilized David Pike’s utilities to compare the two Ancestry files to see if one had a problem, and they were both very similar, so the difference does not appear to be in the Ancestry kits themselves – so the difference has to be at DNA.Land.

So, what I’m saying is that DNA.Land’s enticement of a different company’s view of ethnicity, even after several months, and even at the continent level, still needs work. This along with the original matching issue calls into question the quality of some of the enticements that are being used to attract DNA donors.  We should consider this not only at this site, but at others that provide enticement or “free” services or goodies as well.  Uploaders beware!

While the non-profit status of DNA.Land along with their verbiage leads people to believe that their work is entirely charitable, it is not, as reflected in this sentence from their consent information.

I understand that the research in this study may lead to new products, research tools, or inventions that have financial value. By accepting the terms of this consent, I understand that I will not be able to share in the profits from future commercialization of products developed from this study.

At least they are transparent about this, assuming you actually read all of the information provided on the site – which you should do with every site.

My Heritage Adds DNA Matching

This past week, My Heritage, a company headquartered in Israel, announced that it has added autosomal DNA matching. Some people think this is great, and others not so much.


My Heritage, like Ancestry, is a subscription site. I happen to already be a member, so I was initially pretty excited about this, especially when I saw this in their blog.

Your DNA data will be kept private and secure on MyHeritage.

Our service will then match you to other people who share DNA with you: your relatives through a common ancestor. You will be able to review your matches’ family trees (excluding living people), and filter your matches by common surnames or geographies to focus on more relevant matches.

And also:

Who has access to the DNA data?

Only you do. Nobody else can see it, and nobody can even know that it was uploaded. Only the uploader can see the data, and you can delete it at any time. Users who are matched with your DNA will not have access to your DNA or your email address, but will be able to get in touch with you via MyHeritage.

I was thinking this might be a great opportunity, perhaps similar to the Ancestry trees, although they don’t say anything about tree matching.

However, their Terms of Service are not available to view unless you pretend to start an upload of your DNA (thanks for this tip Ann Turner) and then the “Terms of Service” and “Consent Agreement” links become available to view. They should be available for everyone BEFORE you start your upload.

On the MyHeritage main site, you’ll see DNA matching at the top. I’m a member, so, if you’re not a member, your “main site” may look different.


Click on “learn more” on the DNA Matching tab.


Step two shows you two boxes saying you have read the DNA Terms of Use and Consent Agreement. Don’t just click through these – read them.  Not just at this vendor, at all vendors.

In the required DNA Terms of Use we find this in the 5th paragraph:

By submitting DNA Results to the Website, you grant MyHeritage a perpetual, royalty-free, world-wide, transferable license to use your DNA Results, and any DNA Results you submit for any person from whom you obtained legal authorization as described in this Agreement, and to use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered.

And this in item 7:

c. We may transfer, lease, rent, sell, share and/or or otherwise distribute de-identified information to third parties for any purpose, including without limitation, internal business purposes. Whenever we transfer, lease, rent, sell, share and/or or otherwise distribute your information to third parties, this information will be aggregated and personal identifiers (such as names, birth dates, etc.) will be removed.

In the optional Informed Consent agreement, we find this:

The Project collects, preserves and analyzes genealogical lineage, historical records, surveys, genetic information, and other records (collectively, “Research Information“) provided by users in order to conduct research studies to better understand, among other things, human evolution and migration, population genetics, regional health issues, ethnographic diversity and boundaries, genealogy and the history of the human species. Researchers hope that the Project will be an invaluable tool for a wide range of scholars and researchers interested in genealogy, anthropology, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics and that the Project may benefit future generations. Discoveries made as a result of the Project may be used in the study of genealogy, anthropology, population genetics, population health issues, cultures, trends (for example, to identify health risks or spread of certain diseases), and other related topics. If we or a third party wants to conduct a study (1) on topics unrelated to the Project, or (2) using Research Information beyond what is described in this Informed Consent, we will re-contact you to seek your specific approval. In addition, we may contact you to ask you to complete a questionnaire or to ask you if you are willing to be interviewed about the Project or other matters.

  1. What are the costs and will I receive compensation? MyHeritage will not charge participants any fees in order to be part of the Project. There will be no financial compensation paid to Project participants. The data you share with us for the Project may benefit researchers and others in the future. If any commercial product is developed as a result of the Project or its outcomes, there will be no financial benefit to you.

You can’t see the terms of use or consent agreement unless you are in the process of uploading your DNA and in addition, it appears that your DNA data is automatically available in anonymized fashion to third parties. The terms of service and informed consent data above does not seem to correlate with the marketing information which states that “nobody else” can see your data.

The other thing that’s NOT obvious, is that you don’t HAVE to click the box on the Consent Agreement, but you do HAVE to click the box on the DNA Terms of Use.

If you are not alright with the entirety of the DNA Terms of Use, which is required, do not upload your DNA file to My Heritage.  If you are not alright with the Consent Agreement, don’t click the box.  Judy Russel wrote an detailed article about the terms here.

Uploading your DNA to MyHeritage is free today, but may be a pay service later. It is unclear whether a subscription is required today, or will be in the future.  However, at one time one could upload a family tree of up to 250 people to MyHeritage for free through 23andMe.  Larger files were accepted, but were only free for a certain time period and now the person whose tree was larger than 250 people and who did not subscribe is locked out of their account.  They can’t delete their larger-than-250 person tree unless they purchase a subscription.  It’s unclear what the future holds for DNA uploads, trees and subscriptions as well.

I have not uploaded my DNA to MyHeritage either, based on 7c. It would appear that even if you don’t give consent for additional “research information” to be collected and provided, they can still sell your anonymized DNA.



Very recently, a new company, WeGene at http://www.wegene.com has begun DNA testing focused on the Chinese marketplace.

Their website it in Chinese, but Google translates it, at least nominally, as does Chrome.



It does not appear that WeGene does matching between their customers, or if they do, I’ve missed it in the translations.

You can, however, upload at least 23andMe files to WeGene. I can’t tell about Family Tree DNA and Ancestry files.  Unless you have direct and fairly recent Chinese ancestry, I don’t know what the benefit would be.

Their privacy and security, such as it is, is at this link, although obviously autotranslated. Some people seem to have found other verbiage as well.  Navigating their site, written in Chinese, is very difficult and the accuracy of the autotranslation is questionable, at best.

Their autosomal DNA file is obviously available for download, because GedMatch now accepts these files.

I am certainly not uploading my DNA to WeGene, for numerous reasons.

Vendor Summary

This vendor summary was more difficult to put together than I thought it would be – in part because I am not a new user at either Ancestry or 23andMe and obviously can’t see what a new user would see on any of my accounts. Furthermore, Ancestry in particular has several documents that refer back and forth to each other, and let’s just say they are written more for the legal mind than the typical consumer.

vendor summary

* – Both 23andMe and Ancestry appear to utilize all clients DNA for anonymized distribution, but not for identified distribution without an individual opt-in.

*1 – According to the 23andMe Privacy Policy, although you can opt in to the higher level of research testing where your identity is not removed, you cannot opt out of the anonymized level of DNA sharing/sale. Please review current 23andMe documentation before making a decision.

*2 – Can Opt in or Opt out.

*3 – Can opt out of non-anonymized sales, but not anonymized sales. Please verify utilizing the current Ancestry documents before making a decision.

*4 – DNA.land indicates that you can withdraw consent, but does not say anything about deleting your DNA file.

*5 – DNA.Land states in their consent agreement that they will not provide identified DNA information without first contacting you.

*6 – At 23andMe, deleting DNA from data base closes account.

*7 – Automatically opted in for anonymized sales/sharing, but must opt in for identified DNA sharing.

*8 – 23andMe has been and continues to experience significant difficulties and at this point are not considered a viable genetic genealogy option by many, or stated another way, they would be the last choice of the main three testing companies.

*9 – All legal action must be brought in Tel Aviv, Israel, individually, and not as a class action suit, according to item 9 in the DNA Terms of Use document.

*10 – Website in Chinese, information through an automated English translator, so the information provided here is necessarily incomplete and may not be entirely accurate.

Please note that any or all of these factors are subject to change over time and the vendors’ documents should be consulting and read thoroughly at the time any decision is being made.

Please note that at some vendors there are many different documents that cross-reference each other. They are confusing and should all be read before any decision is made.

And of course, some vendors’ websites aren’t even in English.

Points to Consider

While these companies are the ones that have come to the forefront in the past few months, there will assuredly be more as this industry develops. Here are a list of things for you to think about and points to consider that may help you make your decision about whether you want to either test or upload your autosomal DNA with any particular company.  After all, your autosomal DNA file does contain that obviously much-sought-after medical information.

First, always read every document on a vendor site that says anything like “Terms of Use,” “Security and Privacy” or “Terms of Service” or “Informed Consent.” Many times the fine print is spread throughout several documents that reference each other.  If their policy does not say specifically, do NOT assume.

Also be aware that the verbiage of most companies says they can change their rules of engagement at any time without notification.

Here are the questions you may want to consider as you read these documents.

  • Does the company or organization sell or share your data?
  • Is the data that is sold or shared anonymized or nonanonymized, understanding that really no one is truly anonymous anymore?
  • Who do they sell your data to?
  • For what purpose?
  • Do you have the opportunity to authorize your DNA’s involvement per study?
  • If you do not live in the same country as the company with whom you are doing business, what recourse do you have to enforce any agreement?
  • How do you feel about your DNA being in the hands of either organizations or companies you don’t know for purposes you don’t know?
  • Are you asked up front if you want to participate?
  • Can you opt out of your DNA being shared or sold entirely from the beginning?
  • Can you opt out of your DNA being shared or sold entirely at any time if you have initially opted in?
  • Do you receive the opportunity to opt in, or are you automatically opted in?
  • If you are automatically opted in, do you get the opportunity, right then, to opt out, or only if you happen to discover the situation? And if you can opt out immediately, are you only able to opt out of non-anonymized data or can you opt out entirely?
  • Is the company up front and transparent about what they are doing with your DNA or do you have to dig to unearth the truth?
  • If you already tested, and gave up rights, were you aware that you did so, and do you understand if or how you can rescind that inadvertent authorization?
  • Do you have to dig for the terms of service and are they as represented in the marketing literature?
  • Do you feel like you are giving truly informed consent and understand what can and will happened to your DNA, and what your options are if you change your mind, and how to exercise those options? Are you comfortable with those options and the approach of the company towards DNA sale as a whole? Were they forthright?
  • For companies like MyHeritage and Ancestry, are their other unknown “gotchas” like a subscription being required in addition to testing or uploading to obtain the full benefits of the test or upload?
  • What happens to your DNA if the company no longer exists or goes out of business? For two examples, look at the Sorenson and Ancestry Y and mtDNA DNA results. This is certainly not what any consumer or tester expected. Not to mention, I’m left wondering where my DNA submitted to genesandus is today.
  • Who owns the company?  What are their names?  Where can you find them?  What is the address of the company?  What does google have to say about the owners or management?  Linked-In?  Facebook?  If there is absolutely no history, that’s probably as damning as a bad history.  No one can exist today in a professional capacity and have no history.  Just saying.
  • Is the company acting in any way that would cause you not to trust them, their motives or agenda?  As my mother used to say, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Near and Dear to My Heart

I have family members who work in the medical field in various capacities. I also have family members who have or have had genetically heritable conditions and like everyone else, I would love to see those diseases cured.  My reticence to donate my DNA to whomever for whatever is not a result of being heartless.  It’s a function of wanting to be in control of who profits with/from my DNA and that of my family.

Let me share a personal story with you.

My brother died of cancer in 2012. He went for chemo treatments every two weeks, and before he could have his chemo treatment, he had to have bloodwork to assure that his system was able to handle the next dose of chemo.

If his white cell count was below a certain threshold, a shot of a drug called Neulasta was available to him to stimulate his body to increase the white blood cells. The shots were $8000 a piece.  And no, that is not a typo.  $8000!  His insurance did not cover the shots, because as far as they were concerned, he could just wait until his white cell numbers increased of their own accord and have the chemo then.  Of course, delaying the chemo decreased his chances of survival.

Over the course of his chemo, he had to have three of these $8000 shots. Fortunately, he did have the money to pay, although he did have to reschedule his appointment because he was required to bring a cashier’s check with the full payment in advance before the clinic would administer the shot.  After that, he simply carried an $8000 cashier’s check to each appointment, just in case.

I do not for one minute believe that those shots COST $8000 to manufacture, but I do believe that the pharmaceutical industry could, would and does CHARGE $8000 to desperate patients in order to continue the chemo that is their only hope of life. For those whose insurance pays, it’s entirely irrelevant. For those whose insurance does not pay, it’s a matter of life and death.  And yes, I’m equally as angry with the insurance company, but they aren’t the ones asking for me to do donate my DNA.

So, as for my DNA, no Big Pharm company will ever get their hands on it if there is ANYTHING I can do about it – although it’s probably too late now since I have tested with both 23andMe and Ancestry, who do not allow you to opt out entirely. I wish I had known before I tested.  At least I would have been giving informed consent, which was not the case.

Consequently, I want to know who is doing what with my DNA, so that I have the option of participating or not – and I want to know up front – and I don’t want it hidden in fine print with the company hoping I’ll just “click through” and never read the documentation. I don’t want it to be intentionally or unintentionally confusing, and I want unquestionable full disclosure – ahead of time.  Is that too much to ask?

My brother had the money for the shots, and he died anyway, but can you imagine being the family of someone who did not have $24,000?

And if you think for one minute that Big Pharm won’t do that, consider Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, dubbed “the most hated man in America” in September 2015 for gouging patients dependent on a drug used for HIV and cancer treatment by raising the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 for the same pill, a 5,556% increase – because he could.

Medical research to cure disease I’m supportive of in terms of DNA donation, but not designer babies and not Big Pharm – and today there seems to be no way to separate the bad from the good or to determine who our DNA is being sold to for what purpose. Worse yet, some medical research is funded by Big Pharm, so it’s hard to determine which medical research is independent and which is not.

The companies selling our DNA and Big Pharm are the only people who stand to benefit financially from that arrangement – and they stand to benefit substantially from our contributions by encouraging us to “help science.” We’ll never know if a study our donated DNA was used for produced a new drug – and if it’s one we can’t afford, you can bet the pharmaceutical industry and manufacturers care not one whit that we were one of the people who donated our DNA so they could develop the drug we can’t afford.  If any industry should not be soliciting free DNA donations for research, Big Pharm is that industry with their jaw-dropping profits.

So, How Much is Our DNA Worth Anyway?

I don’t know, directly, but we can get some idea from the deal that 23andMe struck with pharmaceutical company Genentech, the US unit of Swiss drug company, Roche, in January 2015, as reported by Forbes.

Quoting now, directly from the Forbes article:

According to sources close to the deal, 23andMe is receiving an upfront payment from Genentech of $10 million, with further milestones of as much as $50 million. The deal is the first of ten 23andMe says it has signed with large pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Such deals, which make use of the database created by customers who have bought 23andMe’s DNA test kits and donated their genetic and health data for research, could be a far more significant opportunity than 23andMe’s primary business of selling the DNA kits to consumers. Since it was founded in 2006, 23andMe has collected data from 800,000 customers and it sells its tests for $99 each. That means this single deal with one large drug company could generate almost as much revenue as doubling 23andMe’s customer base.

The article further says that the drug company was particularly interested in the 12,000 Parkinson’s patients and 1,300 of their parents and siblings who had provided family information. Ten million divided by 13,300 means Genentech were willing to pay $750 for each person’s DNA, out the door.  So the tester paid $99 or upwards, depending on when they tested – $1000 before September 2008 when the test dropped to $399, to 23andMe and then 23andMe made another $750 per kit from the tester’s donated DNA results.

And that’s before the additional $50 million and the other deals 23andMe and the other DNA-sellers have struck with Big Pharm. So yes indeed, our DNA is worth a lot.

It’s no wonder so many people are trying to trying to find a way to entice us to donate our results so they can sell them. In fact, it’s a wonder, and a testament to their integrity, that there is ANY company with access to our DNA results that isn’t selling them.  In fact, there are only two companies, plus the Genographic Project.

Who Doesn’t Share or Sell Your Autosomal DNA?

Of the major companies, organizations and sites, the only three, as best I can tell, that do not share or sell your autosomal DNA (or reserve the right to do so) and specifically state that they do not are National Geographic’s Genographic Project , Family Tree DNA and GedMatch.

Of those three, Family Tree DNA, a subsidiary of Gene by Gene is the only testing company and says the following:

Gene by Gene collects, processes, stores and shares your Personal Information in a responsible, transparent and secure environment that fosters our customers’ trust and confidence. To that end, Gene by Gene respects your privacy and will not sell or rent your Personal Information without your consent.

National Geographic utilizes Family Tree DNA for testing, and the worst thing I could find in their privacy policy is that they will share:

  • with other selected third parties so that they may send you promotional materials about goods and services that they offer. You have the opportunity to opt out of our sharing information about you as described below in the section entitled “Your Choices”;
  • in accordance with your consent.

Nothing problematic here.

Your Genographic DNA file is only uploadable to Family Tree DNA and Nat Geo does not accept uploaded data from other vendors.

GedMatch, which allows users to upload their raw data files from the major testing companies for comparison says the following:

It is our policy to never provide your genealogy, DNA information, or email address to 3rd parties, except as noted above.

Please refer to the entire documents from these organizations for details.

Serious genealogists have probably already uploaded to GedMatch and tested at or uploaded to Family Tree DNA as well, so people are unlikely to find new matches at new sites that aren’t already in one of these two places.

To Be Clear

I just want to make sure there is no confusion about which type of companies we’ve been referencing, and who is excluded, and why. The only companies or organizations this article applies to are those who have access to your raw data autosomal DNA file.  Those would be either the companies who test your autosomal DNA (National Geographic, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe in the US and WeGenes in China), or if you download your raw data file from those companies and upload it to another company, organization or location, as discussed in this article.  The companies and organizations discussed may not be the only firms or organizations to which you can upload your autosomal DNA file today, and assuredly, there will be more in the future.

The line in the sand is that autosomal DNA file. Not your Y DNA, not your mitochondrial DNA, not your match list – just that raw data file – that’s what contains your DNA information that the medical and pharmaceutical industry seeks and is willing to pay handsomely to obtain.

There are other companies and organizations that offer helpful tools for autosomal DNA analysis and tree integration, but you do NOT upload your raw data file to those sites. Those sites would include sites like www.dnagedcom.com and www.wikitree.com. I want to be sure no one confuses sites that do NOT upload or solicit the upload of your raw autosomal DNA files with those that do.  I have not discussed these sites that do not upload your autosomal DNA files because they are not relevant to this discussion.

This article does not pertain to sites that do not utilize or have access to your autosomal raw data file – only those that do.


As the number of DNA testing consumers rises, the number of potential targets for DNA sales into the medical/pharmaceutical field rises equally, as does the number of targets for scammers.

Along with that, I increasingly feel like my ancestors and the data available through my DNA about my ancestors, specifically ethnicity since everyone seems to be looking for a better answer, is being used as bait to obtain my DNA for companies with a hidden, or less than obvious, agenda – that being to obtain my DNA for subsequent sale.

I greatly appreciate the Genographic Project, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, the organizations who either test or accept autosomal file uploads do not sell my DNA, and I hope that they are not forced into that position economically in order to survive. It’s quite obvious that there is significant money to be made from the sale of massive amounts of DNA to the medical and pharmaceutical communities.  They alone have resisted that temptation and stayed true to the cause of the study of indigenous cultures and population genetics in the case of Nat Geo, and genetic genealogy, and only genetic genealogy in the case of Family Tree DNA and GedMatch.

In other words, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Frankly, I believe selling our data is fundamentally wrong unless that information is abundantly clear, as in truly informed consent as defined by the Office for Human Research Protections, in advance of purchasing (or uploading) the test, and not simply a required “click through box” that says you read something. I would be much more likely to participate in anything that was straightforward rather than something that was hidden or not straightforward, like perhaps the company or organization was hoping we wouldn’t notice, or we would automatically click the box without reading further, thinking we have no other option.

The notice needs to say something on the order of, “I understand that my DNA is going to be sold, may be used for profit making ventures, and I cannot opt out if I order this DNA test,” if that is the case. That is truly informed consent – not a check box that says “I have read the Consent Document.”

Yes, the companies that sell DNA testing and our DNA results would probably receive far fewer orders, but those who would order would be truly informed and giving informed consent. Today, in the large majority of cases, I don’t believe that’s happening.

We need to be aware as consumers and make informed decisions. I’m not telling you whether you should or should not utilize these various companies and sites, or whether you should or should not participate in contributing your DNA to research, or at which level, if at all. That is a personal decision we all have to make.

But I will tell you that I think you need to educate yourself and be aware of these trends and issues in the industry so you can make a truly informed decision each and every time you consider sharing your DNA. And you should know that in some cases, your DNA is being sold and there is absolutely nothing you can do about if it you utilize the services of that company.

Above all, read all of the fine print.

Let me say that again, channeling my best Judy Russell voice.



Unfortunately, things are not always as they seem on the surface.

If you see a click-through box, a red neon danger light should now start flashing in your brain and refuse to allow you to click on that box until you’ve done what? Read all the fine print.

There really is no such thing as a free lunch – so be judiciously suspicious.

I will leave you with the same thought relative to testing companies and upload opportunities that I said about companies selling our data. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I think early in this game we all got excited and presumed the best about the motives of companies and organizations, like I did with both 23andMe and genesandus, but now we know better – and that there may be more to the story than initially meets the eye.

And besides that, we all know that presume is the first cousin to assume…and well, we all know where this is going.  And by the way, that’s exactly how I feel about genesandus who disappeared with my and my husband’s DNA.  I wasn’t nearly suspicious or judicious enough then…but I am now.

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.