Ancestry.com's AncestryDNA won't give you your raw data

By Razib Khan | September 16, 2012 9:18 pm

CeCe Moore points me to an “interesting” fact I had not noticed about Ancestry.com‘s AncestryDNA service (which is not open available to everyone right now):

I re-emphasized to John the importance to the genetic genealogy community that AncestryDNA release our genetic data to us. I mentioned that my colleagues and I were happy to discover that Ken Chahine’s statements to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues in Washington D.C. on August 1st were in line with our belief that our genetic data belongs to us (video and transcript). During the second session, Dr. Chahine stated that “the customer retains ownership of their DNA and data”. However, we feel that AncestryDNA’s policies do not currently reflect this. John reiterated what I have been told before, which is that they are genuinely considering the best way to deliver this data to us. In response to my persistence, John told me that they are aware that this is important to me, but that they have to take into consideration everyone’s feedback, not just mine. As a result, giving us access to our genetic data is not at the top of their list of priorities. He explained that they read lots of feedback and do a significant number of surveys and focus groups in order to determine what is most important to their customers and, by that process, their priorities are dictated….

 

Most people don’t download their raw data from these services, but it seems to be the ethical thing to do to at least give people the option. I’m not opposed to paternalism in all cases, but this is ridiculous. What reason does Ancestry.com have to not provide raw data downloads when their competitors do? Is this some sort of feature?

I had actually had a rather good impression of AncestryDNA before this because of their scientific advisory team, which included some “A-list” scholars whose work I was familiar with. Obviously these scientists aren’t privy to all the details of the product, they’re consultants, but I wonder if they are aware of this data policy. In any case, I’m peeved enough about this sort of thing that I’ll probably make sure to bring this up over & over when they finally get their product out of beta (unless their policy changes). I’m sure Ancestry.com has a top-notch marketing and public relations team, so they’re service will get lots of good press. But people should be aware of deficiencies where they exist.

The bottom line is that Ancestry.com’s AncestryDNA plans to take your genetic material, analyze it, but refuse to return your raw results. Are you going to pay for that sort of “service”?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal Genomics
MORE ABOUT: Personal genomics
  • http://www.taneya-kalonji.com/genblog Taneya

    I really wish they would give the raw data and until they do, I probably will not buy their testing service. Thanks for the post.

  • April Brown

    Let’s hope it’s an artifact of being in beta – I’ve been on the back side of enough software development projects to smell the corporate-speak apology that results from conflicts among marketing and dev and test. Bloggers like you complaining and publicizing the shortcoming is exactly the right way to get them to reshuffle their ‘list of priorities’. I’d bet there’s something pointless like “customizable colour palettes for charts” up higher on their list than “provide raw data downloads.”

  • pconroy

    Yes, this product is currently Beta.

    I am estimated as 95% British and 6% Unknown – I sent them an email asking what were the possibilities for Unknown a few weeks ago and got no response.

    Another thing to ponder is that on 23andMe I have something like 1,100 Relatives, of which an estimated 92 are 4th cousins or less.

    Whereas on AncestryDNA, I have something like 1,450 Relatives, of which an estimated 6 are 4th cousins or less – at > 95% confidence.

    So AncestryDNA has about 50% MORE Relatives identified, but has 1,533% LESS close relatives identified?!

    I’m not sure how to evaluate this, on the one hand it may be that Ancestry are overly cautious, or 23andMe are overly optimistic, while on the other hand it may be in part due to the databases themselves, where many of 23andMe’s customers – at least originally – came from a medical/technical or professional background, like my own, whereas many of AncestryDNA customers were existing Ancestry customers and a more average American population?!

    Any ideas anyone?

  • Patrick

    What do you mean by raw data?

    If it is anything like 23andMe, the reason that you can’t get a copy of the data is because they don’t actually sequence your genome. They just use a battery of tests to identify particular SNPs.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #4, have you ever downloaded your raw genotype file from 23andme? it’s easy to convert it into other formats (pedigree format) and do further analytics. though it isn’t totally raw, as they get it in a different format from illumina. i had no idea that only sequence data is termed ‘raw.’ is this for real?

  • Douglas Knight

    pconroy, it’s probably just that 23andme only counts 7th cousins as relatives, while ancestry.com counts 10th cousins.

    Another possibility stems from the fact that Ancestry.com’s main product is not DNA testing, but software for making family trees. They may be counting as distant relatives people in the trees of those who have been tested.

  • Douglas Knight

    (I don’t know the criteria either company uses for identifying relatives. I got the numbers 7th & 10th by assuming that you have twice as many nth cousins as n-1-th cousins. And I ignore everyone not on the same generation. The point is that different thresholds could easily produce this situation.)

  • pconroy

    @6 Doug,

    That would account for the 50% MORE number of total “Relatives”, but what I’m really interested in is the 1,533% LESS close relatives identified – how can this be?!

  • pconroy

    Of course I should say that I too will demand my Raw Data be made available from AncestryDNA, if it is not done in the next few months.

  • Douglas Knight

    If 23andme has tested 15x as many people as ancestry.com, they should find 15x as many 4th cousins, 5th cousins, etc. We certainly know that 23andme has sequenced many more people than ancestry.com, though I don’t know the actual ratio.

  • pconroy

    @10 Doug,

    We certainly know that 23andme has sequenced many more people than ancestry.com, though I don’t know the actual ratio

    Llast I saw AncestryDNA was selling like hot cakes, and had an estimated 50,000 users in < 6 months. It took 23andMe and FTDNA years to reach that mark. I’d estimate 23andMe probably has between 150,000 – 200,000 participants, which would be 3 or 4 times the Ancestry DNA database only.

    Of course to answer my own question – I guess it's possible that 23andMe is "capping" my number of reported matches – but then it would have to be by a lot?

  • Paul Wright

    No raw data and no detail on segment shares or methodology/thresholds used to determine match leave much to be desired. Until corrected will be 3rd out of the 3 companies offering test that I would recommend anyone to purchase.

  • http://twitter.com/hypoelectron Hannah Grant

    I agree. It feels as if I have wasted my hundred dollars on thier product. I believe the most disappointed consumers will be the average white female with little genetic variety. That is to say the variety wouldn’t be visible except in the raw data. Then again Ancestry still claims that thy don’t have a polished product even though it’s gone live. The only thing I can look forward to is thier promise of future updates.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gale.gorman Gale Gorman

    I just got my so-called results this morning and still can’t believe they charged money to tell me information found on my public tree that I posted. What a scam!

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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