Follow-up Concerning DNA Information and Ancestry.com’s Sale to Blackstone in a $4.7 Billion Deal

I published an article 2 days ago (at https://bit.ly/31Im9sL) containing an announcement that Ancestry.com and all its subsidiaries are to be sold to the Blackstone Group Inc. for $4.7 billion (US) including debt. The announcement was brief and contained very few details.

As you might expect, the announcement has generated a lot of questions amongst genealogists asking questions about the future of the company and how the services might change. Many of those questions concern the privacy of DNA information presently held by Ancestry.com.

An article this morning by Kevin Truong in the Vice.com web site answered a few questions concerning the company’s DNA business. He writes:

“Ancestry is known for its genealogy and home DNA testing services. According to its website, the company has 3 million paying subscribers, 27 billion records, and 100 million family trees. The website also says that over 18 million people have been DNA tested through the company.

“’To be crystal clear, Blackstone will not have access to user data and we are deeply committed to ensuring strong consumer privacy protections at the company,’ a spokesperson for Blackstone told Motherboard in an email. ‘We will not be sharing user DNA and family tree records with our portfolio companies.’

“A spokesperson from Ancestry also said the company’s relationship with its users would remain the same.

“’Ancestry’s terms and conditions and privacy statement that is in effect for our users remains the same and Ancestry’s commitments to protect our customers’ personal data has not changed,’ the spokesperson said.”

The full article at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/akzyq5/private-equity-firm-blackstone-bought-ancestry-dna-company-for-billions goes on for much longer. However, I found it interesting the final paragraph provides interesting advice for genealogists and others:

“Ultimately, the multi-billion dollar trading of Ancestry between investment companies is another reminder that when you hand over your DNA, you never know who might eventually own it. “

18 Comments

C. Christopher Sirr August 7, 2020 at 11:35 am

“Ultimately, the multi-billion dollar trading of Ancestry between investment companies is another reminder that when you hand over your DNA, you never know who might eventually own it. “ And that is why they never got it or ever will! – C. Sirr

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    We all give away samples of our DNA every day. If ownership is possession then we don’t own our DNA any more than we own the air that we breathe.
    Leaving that aside, all reputable providers of DNA tests have privacy policies to protect users. To the best of my knowledge none of them claim ownership of their customers’ DNA, certainly not Ancestry or any of the other major providers.
    It’s true that databases can be hacked, but then so can the contents of your trash can. As I recall it was the trash can that finally nailed the Golden State Killer.

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    The worst of it is those who vehemently promote Ancestry’s DNA taking services (and/or others like it) on their genealogy website, taking a kick back out of it are they?. Also now we see knee jerk vehemently defending this new outfit, ‘who they know next to nothing about’ other than the patronising, ambiguous and vacuous spiel this new outfit spins out.
    Now ‘Blackstone’, an ominous cold, dark & hard-hearted sounding outfit isn’t it!, sounds like they’re a mix between a BLACKwater private military merc type company and a top secret Jason Bourne TreadSTONE project. Now this opportunist money grubbing faceless outfit will have their hands on the lot.
    Like as if the US NSA doesn’t have insiders in place within these US based DNA service sites/large online Genealogy organisations anyway, that just surreptitiously on a regular basis collate the information and whisk it off back to their HQ in Fort Meade, Maryland. What would stop them or any other Nations security people ‘friend or foe’ doing so?.
    Now with Treadstone acquiring Ancestry and hoovering up the DNA data things are looking even grimmer.
    Of cause it won’t stop these unrepentant small time online genealogy opportunists doubling down promoting the unsafe practice of DNA sampling, how naive, gullible and ‘lost’ are they in their constant online crusade to persuade innocent folk to participate in DNA sampling.
    Of CAUSE if DNA is submitted it will end up in the hands of a Nations National Security Agency and thereafter shared between its allies, also collating & contributing to this DNA security database. It is a certainty, anyone should know that, that’s why people feel it is rightfully wise NOT to get involved. Despite all those going out of their way to convince them otherwise. One in particular is guilty of this.

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Given the relationship between one of Blackstone’s principals and Trump plus the issues of another Blackstone company, Motel 6, delivering information to ICE, believing that Ancestry’s DNA data will remain protected is at best naive.

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Can someone please explain what “own your DNA” means? Do I normally have a patent or copyright on my DNA that I hand over when I used Ancestry’s DNA services? How could I have monetised by DNA, if only I hadn’t handed it over?
I can understand the concept of privacy of my DNA – but that is not (it appears) what’s being talked about.

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You own your DNA means you have the right to remove it from any site and/or to have the company destroy your DNA sample, and they must comply. Most so state in their T&C.

Liked by 1 person

    OK – I’d call that control rather than ownership, but it’s an important point. Whether it’s what everyone else means, I don’t know!

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    Call it whatever you want, but you have absolute control – read the full terms and conditions you agreed to at first. You can pull out at any time. Unfortunately we cannot write our own T&C. Often there are several options you can choose. You can opt to not do DNA testing; and after reading the T&C you can refuse to sign.

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i am glad i do not use any of ancestry now although my tree is on their site probably forever my dna data is not.
the sale does not affect me but would like to point out that one should be concerned about some of the players in this purchase i.e. Chinese citizens

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Blackstone buying a 75% interest in Ancestry.com is bad. George Orwell, “1984” bad. I worked for a company–you’ve probably heard of it, The Nielsen Company–that was acquired in 2006 by a consortium of private equity firms led by Blackstone. Blackstone wrings every last penny from the companies it acquires, by every means available. I’d been with my division of Nielsen for nearly nine years, but the Blackstone-led acquisition made life so miserable I left.

If you read the Bloomberg.com story about the Ancestry acquisition (link at the bottom), you’ll find this:

“Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative asset manager with $564 billion in assets, is also focused on growing its life sciences group. It has spent more than $1 billion this year investing in drugs that target high cholesterol, kidney disease in children and devices for diabetes patients.”

Think about the value of having DNA samples that show predisposition to “high cholesterol, kidney disease in children and devices for diabetes patients.” Your ancestry “fun” is about to become fodder for marketing (in the best case scenario) and discriminatory use of your future health issues (in the worst case scenario).

I deliberately have not done DNA tests, for exactly this reason. I’m encouraging everyone I know who has to contact Ancestry.com to have their results removed form the database before Blackstone makes that impossible to do.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-05/blackstone-said-to-reach-4-7-billion-deal-to-buy-ancestry-com?fbclid=IwAR0UDM0-s3iMiFsH-JMvNwLypkuuSCRmD44hD625csI_qvd_gguyErdpMqk

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    And how exactly are they supposed to know that my DNA sample shows a predisposition to X, or that I have X? Unless there is a means to correlate to health data, it’s fairly useless for health purposes. Oh they might decide to target me with adverts because they think that XYZ in my DNA indicates something, but that’s just like the adverts on Facebook – Delete! Ignore!

    Liked by 1 person

Sirr, C. Christopher August 8, 2020 at 11:12 pm

For those people, who have no problem circulating your DNA, may I please have your Bank Account numbers, address and where you hide your spare set of keys?

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    People hand over their bank details every time they write a check. The addresses of most people in the US (even those who live in Rhode Island) can be found with an online search. Locks are a poor protection against intruders – get a decent security system and add cameras as a back-up.
    I have no problem contributing my DNA to a database where it is protected by legislation and the guarantee of a multi-billion company that depends on customers like me for its very existence. What does concern me is that there are scores of other smaller companies which sell DNA kits, but will probably disappear underground at the first sign of a lawsuit.

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    Or course people can find me in Rhode Island or elsewhere! This is why I don’t rely too heavily on High Tech. So far the moat, dogs and, not to be revealed, other deterrents are serving me well. Just the same, missile maintenance is a bit of a pain.

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Glenna Bryant Kinard August 9, 2020 at 7:16 am

I am more concerned about the continuing Singapore connection:
“The sellers include private equity fund manager Silver Lake, GIC (a sovereign wealth fund owned by the GOVERNMENT OF SINGAPORE), Spectrum Equity, Permira, and other equity holders.GIC will continue to retain a “significant minority stake” in the company. Bloomberg reported that GIC will own about 25% of the company and Blackstone will own 75%.”

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    Singapore has some of the most stringent privacy laws of any country in the world. The Singapore privacy laws are much stronger than those of the U.S. Singapore is often called “the Switzerland of the Orient” because the country’s privacy laws are actually stronger than those of Switzerland. If I was concerned about maintaining personal privacy, I would trust the Singapore government more than any other country. For more information about the country’s privacy laws, start at https://duckduckgo.com/?q=singapore+privacy+laws&atb=v132-2_j&ia=web

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These days, it seems that every time I want to see an actual document on Ancestry, I get an “Oops…” message and no document. I wrote them, no answer.

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The whole sordid history of Ancestry reeks to High Heaven. Most recently, they handed out a $900 million “dividend” the various insiders. They bought out Rootsweb, milked it for everything they though they could get out of it and turned it into a burnt out cinder. Just months ago, they killed the message boards. It has been all about gouging the genealogy community, getting free content from researchers and then charging exorbitant fees to then access your own information. My advice now: download your Findagrave memorials, before Blackstone puts them behind their pay wall.

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