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GEDmatch changes hands again in Verogen sale

It isn’t mentioned on the website of GEDmatch, the third-party DNA tools site at the heart of much of the early privacy debate over law enforcement use of consumer DNA databases for criminal investigations.

And The Legal Genealogist sees no change in the site’s terms of service — those rules that set out not just what consumers can do on the site but what the site owners can do with consumer data.1

But — disclosed or not — GEDmatch has a new owner: QIAGEN, a company headquartered in The Netherlands that says it “serves more than 500,000 customers around the globe, all seeking answers from the building blocks of life – DNA, RNA and proteins.”2 It announced its acquisition of GEDmatch’s parent company, the forensic firm Verogen, last week.3

Verogen sale announcement

And, at the moment, nobody in the genetic genealogy community has a clue just what that acquisition means for GEDmatch, or what the new owner has in mind for this.

The GEDmatch story began years ago, when two genealogist-programmers teamed up to create a database where those who tested with different DNA companies could compare their results and find cousins to collaborate with and, with luck, solve genealogical mysteries. Its array of tools was terrific, and the ability to compare results across platforms made it extremely useful for researchers.4

And then the privacy issues began to swirl. First, the disclosure that GEDmatch was the website used by police in the Golden State killer case without its users’ knowledge.5 Then its disclosure that the site had disregarded its own terms of service in allowing police access to information.6 And its initial privacy opt-out that wasn’t anything approaching an informed consent system,7 And ultimately the sale of GEDmatch to the forensic company Verogen.8

Now Verogen itself has been acquired, putting GEDmatch into new ownership as well.

On one hand, this could be a good thing. As a Dutch company, QIAGEN may well be more sensitive to privacy issues than an American company would be: privacy laws throughout Europe are stronger than they are in the United States. Informed consent is at the very heart of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and that regulation requires that people affirmatively opt in to the use of their data, rather than allowing data use unless people opt out.9

On the other hand, the acquisition removes the ultimate authority over GEDmatch one more step from its genealogy roots. And it’s hard to see any way that that’s going to be good for family researchers.

At the moment, it’s a waiting game: we need to see what — if anything — changes in the GEDmatch terms of service and/or its operational privacy.

Stay tuned…


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “GEDmatch sold again,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 19 Jan 2023).

SOURCES

  1. The terms are still dated 30 December 2021, and the text reads the same now as it did on that date. See “Terms of Service and Privacy Policy,” Effective Date: December 30, 2021, GEDmatch.com (https://www.gedmatch.com/ : accessed 19 Jan 2023).
  2. “About us,” QIAGEN.com (https://www.qiagen.com/ : accessed 15 Jan 2023).
  3. See “QIAGEN completes acquisition of Verogen, strengthening leadership in Human ID / Forensics with NGS technologies,” Press Release, QIAGEN.com (https://www.qiagen.com/ : accessed 19 Jan 2023).
  4. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Gedmatch: a DNA geek’s dream site,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Aug 2012 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 19 Jan 2023).
  5. See ibid., “The bull in the DNA china shop,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Apr 2018.
  6. See ibid., “Withdrawing a recommendation/,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 May 2019.
  7. See ibid., “The choice that really isn’t,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 22 May 2019.
  8. See ibid., “GEDmatch acquired by forensic firm,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 Dec 2019.
  9. See generally Article 6, Lawfulness of processing, GDPR.EU (https://gdpr.eu/ : accessed 19 Jan 2023).
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