The At-Home DNA Testing Fad Is Over, But Companies Still Have Your Data

23andMe and Ancestry are losing sales and laying off workers

Emily Mullin
OneZero
Published in
5 min readFeb 7, 2020

--

A vile being filled by a pippet in a genetics laboratory.
Photo: Phil Carrick/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

FFor the past few years, it seemed like everyone and their mom was buying an at-home DNA testing kit. Millions of people bought tests from 23andMe, Ancestry, and other companies to learn about their heritage, connect with long-lost relatives, and discover their risk of certain medical conditions. People ordered them in droves for holiday and birthday gifts, and others bought 23andMe tests at Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart while getting their prescriptions filled.

But now, the enthusiasm for consumer DNA tests is waning. Sales of DNA kits have slowed, and in January, 23andMe said it was laying off 100 employees, about 14% of its workforce. This week, Ancestry announced it is also letting go of 100 people, around 6% of its employees. “Over the last 18 months, we have seen a slowdown in consumer demand across the entire DNA category,” Ancestry president and CEO Margo Georgiadis said in a blog post.

The post alluded to privacy as one reason for the slowdown. “Future growth will require a continued focus on building consumer trust and innovative new offerings that deliver even greater value to people,” said Georgiadis. In an interview with CNBC, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki also acknowledged that privacy could be a factor.

Concerns around what companies can do with customers’ DNA and who they share it with have mounted in recent years, especially after law enforcement officials announced in 2018 that they had used an online DNA database to identify a suspect in the decades-old Golden State Killer case. Detectives uploaded the suspected killer’s DNA profile to GEDmatch, a free genealogical service where users upload their raw genetic data from DNA testing companies. The website was originally created to help adoptees find their birth parents but is increasingly being used to help crack cold cases. Though 23andMe and Ancestry don’t directly share customers’ data with law enforcement and said they will fight search warrants, there’s increasing pressure from police for them to do so.

And if you’ve opted to allow your DNA to be used for research, it could be shared with other scientists and organizations outside of the…

--

--

Emily Mullin
OneZero

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.