GEDmatch became famous and controversial overnight when, last year, investigators used it to find relatives of the Golden State Killer and track down their suspect. Until then, it was just a site where you could upload your data from a DNA testing service, like 23andme or Ancestry, and see who you might be related to.
Since that happened, two genetic databases have become popular with law enforcement. FamilyTreeDNA shares data with America’s FBI, unless you opt out; GEDmatch at first had no policy, but then decided that users would have to opt in to allow their data to be searched by law enforcement. (23andme and Ancestry are not the type of databases that allow these searches.)
If you have an account with GEDmatch, you’ll have to decide if you’re still ok with having your data in the company’s database. Providing your data to law enforcement is still opt-in, and your previous choice (or lack thereof) still applies. If you decide you’d rather not deal with this company at all, there’s a button to decline the new terms and delete your data.
Additionally, users are reporting that if you have an email address associated with an EU country, you’ll have to click through an additional form to confirm that the person whose DNA you’re uploading has allowed you to do so.
So has anything really changed in terms of privacy? So far, not yet. Verogen says they will “ensure ongoing privacy protections and enhance the customer experience,” possibly by creating new tools for the website. Genealogist Leah Larkin told Buzzfeed that GEDmatch’s creators were “probably tired of dealing with all of the hassle” of their site being at the centre of data privacy controversies, which sounds plausible to me.
Recently, a Florida search warrant forced GEDmatch to allow a search of their entire database. That’s bad. But Verogen seems like they may have more resources to challenge legal attempts to access the database, so that’s possibly good? They said in a press release: “We are steadfast in our commitment to protecting users’ privacy and will fight any future attempts to access data of those who have not opted in.”