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At-home DNA tests help answer questions about ancestry, but are there privacy risks?

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At-home DNA test kits are gaining popularity for people interested in learning about their ancestry, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns of the possible privacy risks associated with sending out a swab of saliva, our affiliate WLOS reported.

Ancestry and 23andMe are two popular companies that will take someone's DNA and find out their heritage, but the FTC advised consumers to look into the privacy policy of these companies before purchasing a kit.

"Scrutinize each company’s website for details about what they do with your personal data. Rather than just clicking 'I accept,' take the time to understand how your health, genetic, and other sensitive information will be used and shared," FTC advised on their website.

Have you ever used an at-home DNA test kit?

Jessica O'Brien had sent in her DNA to Ancestry after she was frequently asked about her background, and was surprised by the results.

"People have asked me if I was Native American, if I was Hispanic, if I was Middle Eastern, if I was Greek," O'Brien told WLOS. "I was like, wow. I am just a white person."

O'Brien said she did not even consider the privacy risks before sending in her DNA.

"I was pretty ignorant to the idea that I would have to consider that," she said.

Ancestry's policy is to keep the DNA for future testing. All customers consent to the policy when they send in their information, though the company will delete the data if requested.

23andMe's policy is a little different, destroying the information after it is tested. Both companies send the DNA to a third-party lab for testing.

The FTC also advised customers consider the possibility that hackers could get their information.

"If hackers can hack into government facilities, banking facilities, then what's to keep them from hacking into ancestry," Gene Kindley, an Ancestry customer, told WLOS.

Ancestry told Circa that the privacy of customers is a top priority, and all customers' information is encrypted and there is no personal identifying data stored with raw DNA or physical samples.

Customer's privacy is also a priority of 23andMe, and said the information the FTC released was more advice and not a warning.

"FTC posted a blog asking consumers to "consider privacy implications" and offering "advice" on this topic, so this is not a warning. A warning implies some type of imminent danger," Andy Kill, communications for 23andMe, told Circa in an email.

But if there ever was a personal security concern from any at-home DNA test customers, the FTC said consumers should let the agency know.

"We’ve brought dozens of cases challenging deceptive or unfair practices related to consumer privacy and data security – including a settlement with a business that sold products based on at-home genetic testing, but allegedly failed to provide reasonable security for consumers’ personal information," the agency said on their website.

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