GEDmatch can no longer be trusted

The Legal Genealogist‘s love for the third-party DNA tools site GEDmatch has always been clear.

Just in the last year, I’ve written about its cool tool to create superkits1 and the switchover from the old platform to the new Genesis platform.2

In 2012, I called it a “DNA geek’s dream site.”3

Now that dream has turned into more of a nightmare.

Because those who are running the site — lovely decent human beings — have decided that they can make decisions for the users of the site about the limits of police access to their data, without telling the users of the site, and without giving those users the opportunity to give informed consent to that access.

As a result, GEDmatch has broken its own word, its own contract with its users, set out in its own terms of service.

GEDmatch broken contract

Just this morning, this announcement appeared on GEDmatch:

“On Nov 17, 2018, a 71 year old church organist was violently attacked while practicing alone in her church.

The Police contacted Parabon NanoLabs, seeking help, but Parabon declined to take the case because it did not meet the ‘rape or murder’ definition in GEDmatch Terms of Service. We were later contacted by the Police Detective working the case. After hearing the very violent details of this case, we offered Parabon permission to look for a match at GEDmatch. They accepted our offer and took the case.

As a result of leads generated from a DNA match on GEDmatch, in April, 2019, a suspect was arrested and charged. There are those who believe that we have betrayed the trust of those who have uploaded their DNA to GEDmatch. GEDmatch made an exception to policy in this case because police made a compelling argument that this offender could pose a serious public safety risk.”4

So… the two lovely decent human beings who are the moving forces behind GEDmatch made a decision, on their own, without consulting their users, to expose the data of those users to the police because the police made a compelling argument.

Now it may very well be that the vast majority of those users would have agreed with that decision — if they had been asked.

But they weren’t asked.

Somebody else made that decision for them.

Somebody who, despite the best of intentions, despite the compelling arguments made, didn’t have the right to make that decision for them.

And somebody who has made it clear that they very well may — in the future — make that same decision in a case where they believe the arguments are compelling… and the rest of us may strongly disagree.

Bottom line: nobody but nobody can give informed consent for someone else. Nobody but nobody has the right to make decisions for DNA testers other than the DNA testers.

Informed consent is the essential underpinning of ethical DNA testing and results-sharing. As set out in the new DNA standards and ethical rules adopted by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, ethical genealogists do not make decisions for others, but instead make full disclosure of the risks and benefits and then “request and comply with the signed consent, freely given by the person providing the DNA sample or that person’s guardian or legal representative.”5 And it is now a written standard that “Genealogists share living test-takers’ data only with written consent to share that data.”6

This isn’t a new concept. The Genetic Genealogy Standards, widely accepted by the genealogical community after they were formulated in 2015, provide much the same limitation, that “Genealogists only test with companies that respect and protect the privacy of testers” — and that caveat applies to third-party tools sites too.

When a company or tools site breaks its own word in its terms of service — its contract with its users — and makes decisions on allowing access without consulting those users, when it takes it on itself to share living test-takers’ data without our consent, it does not respect our privacy rights… and can no longer be trusted or recommended.

With regret, I withdraw my recommendation of GEDmatch and am amending every GEDmatch-related post to reference this post.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Withdrawing a recommendation,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 15 May 2019).

SOURCES

  1. Judy G. Russell, “Superkit Sunday,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 Apr 2019 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 15 May 2019).
  2. Ibid., “Genesis at GEDmatch,” posted 16 Dec 2018.
  3. Ibid., “Gedmatch: a DNA geek’s dream site,” posted 12 Aug 2012.
  4. Genesis landing page, GEDmatch.com (https://genesis.gedmatch.com/ : accessed 15 May 2019).
  5. Genealogist’s Code of Ethics, Board for Certification of Genealogists (https://bcgcertification.org/ : accessed 15 May 2019).
  6. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, TN : Ancestry, 2019), 32, Standard 57, “Respect for privacy rights” (emphasis added).
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