Thursday, November 06, 2008

Too Much Personal Information

Learning and sharing your genetic secrets are at the heart of 23andMe's controversial new service — a $399 saliva test that estimates your predisposition for more than 90 traits and conditions ranging from baldness to blindness. Although 23andMe isn't the only company selling DNA tests to the public, it does the best job of making them accessible and affordable. The 600,000 genetic markers that 23andMe identifies and interprets for each customer are "the digital manifestation of you," says Wojcicki (pronounced Wo-jis-key), 35, who majored in biology and was previously a health-care investor. "It's all this information beyond what you can see in the mirror."

We are at the beginning of a personal-genomics revolution that will transform not only how we take care of ourselves but also what we mean by personal information. In the past, only élite researchers had access to their genetic fingerprints, but now personal genotyping is available to anyone who orders the service online and mails in a spit sample. Not everything about how this information will be used is clear yet — 23andMe has stirred up debate about issues ranging from how meaningful the results are to how to prevent genetic discrimination — but the curtain has been pulled back, and it can never be closed again. And so for pioneering retail genomics, 23andMe's DNA-testing service is Time's 2008 Invention of the Year.

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The flood gates are opened for the loss of total privacy, even privacy regarding your future!

The insurance companies are going to have a field day.


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Blogger Sora said...

this is like an individualized horoscope/palm reading isn't it? Even if it's not 100% accurate (nurture does play a big role in expression of most diseases or traits), it'll become a self fulfilling prophecy (I have the gene to be bald - therefore the 100+ hair strands I lose per day is the sign of baldness)

But then again, it wouldn't stop insurance company from charging big over probable diseases.

I wonder if they would use this in court cases (predisposition to lying/criminal acts?)

6:45 PM  
Blogger Alex Wong said...

Federal legislation called GINA was enacted earlier this year that protects individuals from genetic discrimination by insurers and employers.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Alex Wong,

Thanks for your comment about GINA and the link.

Nevertheless, you and I know that legistration seldom solve all problems at the grassroot level. Insurers and employers will want to know such information if they know such information is now available.

If you are an insurance company, will you like to insure someone whom you know has a 75% chance of a heart attack and thus likely claim on your policy? Similarly, if you are an employer, will you want to employ this same person with such high risk of heart attack;likely to drain your health benefits and a likely to be on sick leave most of the time.

It can also work the other way. Someone who have been tested with high risk of a certain condition, heavily insure himself or herself. How long do you think the insurance companies will stand idly by?

Access to personal information and loss of person privacy is so rampant nowadays.

GINA is for the USA. How about us in the rest of the world? What protection do we have? Anyone could send away a sample of our saliva and have it tested.

6:38 PM  

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