Saturday, September 13, 2014

The latest 23andMe "Show Close Relatives" disaster

I am disappointed to report that 23andMe has reneged on their promise to show Close Relative for any accounts that have not specifically opted out.  23andMe waited until the last possible moment, late in the evening on the day the change was supposed to be made, to post that they had changed their mind.




Many people had stayed up late, waiting and watching, hoping for a new close match to appear, and were justifiably outraged when instead they were given a "oh, sorry we changed our mind" post.

For people who don't know the background, to see and be shown to close matches you used to have to click a little box.  After you clicked the little box, a little pop up would come up saying you may find something shocking like a half sibling etc, and you would have to click yes, you want to see.  Many people did not understand that they needed to click this box when they received their DNA Cousins list, and so are not showing up on their close relatives pages. So, for example, if I had a half sibling and they tested in 2011 before I did, or sometimes between then and this summer, and they didn't check the box, they would not see me in their list and I would not see them.  They may not have known the check the box, and may have tested just to find a close relative, but upon not seeing any, gave up.  Not everyone digs in as deep into genetic genealogy and all the bells and whistles of 23andMe as I have.

After the planned change, anonymous profiles would still have been anonymous, but people would have known they were there (or not there, which is likely the case for the vast majority of people, who 23andMe has now angered)

I understand a small number of people have been unhappy with the results after having been matched with a close relative.   Sometimes the truth sucks. Even when it sucks it remains the truth. Many adoptees and people with "non-paternal events" have happy reunions.  Sometimes they don't, but the truth is still worth knowing, even when it doesn't turn out the way you had hoped.

I have tested my husband at 23andMe.  If an unknown half sibling to me or my husband were to appear I would be excited, and would be happy to meet them.  If an unknown to us child was to appear in his list, I would be shocked, but I would hardly blame 23andMe.  Maybe I would ask my husband to not have a relationship with this unknown (presumably adult) child.  I can't say that we would be all excited by the news. Maybe we would be, maybe we wouldn't.  But I can say that we would certainly offer up a full medical history and basic family information. And I would certainly not blame 23andMe for any issues. 

As a starting point, I would think there is no legal/ethical issues with telling customers that they have no relatives being hidden.  Sure, this would tell certain customers that they DO have relatives being hidden, when they didnt get this notice, but it would decrease the number of unhappy people by quite a bit. And it doesn't actually reveal the hidden matches in any way.  What % of users have a hidden match I wonder?

If 23andMe did not intend to follow through with the plan to reveal close relatives they should not have promised that they would.