DNA Testing: Is knowing your heritage worth risking your privacy?

Consumer data is becoming a form of currency for most corporations. If it seems like every company is constantly trying to get you to share your data, it’s because they are. Data, especially when it’s connected to your specific demographic profile, is extremely valuable to companies to gain insights about a multitude of trends in order to target advertising and more. But what makes our personal genetic data so valuable? And why are we so willing to give it to genetic-testing companies?

Do we realize what personal rights we are forfeiting in the future when we eagerly dive into knowing about our past?

If data is so valuable, we should be protecting it the way we would protect our wallets, but often there is little care given to our personal data or meta-data. When genetic-testing companies exploded into the market, consumer response was huge. It felt like every one of our family members, friends, and co-workers were finding out more information about their genetic makeup and sending the kits out as gifts. All the hype and the benefit of having a deeper understanding of genetic history was enough for many people to jump on the trend without giving much thought to the risk.

“The key thing about your genetic data … it is uniquely yours. It identifies you, so if you are going to entrust it to a company, you should try to understand what the consequences are”

Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society

The risk of giving so much genetic data to these companies, whether they are helping you learn more about your allergens or genetic makeup, may outweigh the benefits. One of the biggest risks with data privacy is when third parties get involved and both Ancestry and 23andMe have been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over their third party policies.  Most of the third party sharing is able to be opted in or out, but many consumers choose to opt-in regardless of if they know what they are truly sharing.

Another large risk we take when using genetic- testing is the physical sample submission. With Nest or Alexa, often times we can delete our data and profile but how could our society regulate the destruction of our physical sample if we decide we no longer want companies to have it. The physical sample has also been something of major interest to law enforcement. This could definitely be viewed as a positive, considering the suspected Golden State Killer was identified due to a DNA partial match. This technology allowed a partial match to shrink the suspect pool from millions to one family tree.

But is law enforcement looking to these privatized genetic-testing companies a violation of our rights? Is the regulation of technologies quick enough to protect us?

Artificial Intelligence combined with the in-home healthcare testing industry could very well be the key to solving the global healthcare crisis, as discussed in previous articles at solvetheunsolveable, but data protection remains a key concern. Artificial Intelligence is allowing patients and doctors to connect to vast databases and learn more about their personal diagnoses in just moments, something that not too long ago could take months or years. However, the data harnessed could be used for the wrong reasons when in the hands of for profit organizations. When consumers opt-in to sharing their data under the guise of finding the cure to a disease, they believe they are making the world a better place but who really stands to profit from that data?

People do think they are helping the world, helping society, even though they may not as an individual benefit. But if your DNA helps develop a drug for a pharmaceutical company, there is nothing governing what they do. It could be a drug they sell at a high profit but doesn’t help the world become a better place.

Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society

The lack of transparency is confusing to consumers and this is often an intentional strategy from companies in order to profit off of consumer data. Consumers should be very careful of releasing their most intimate data, their very own DNA. In the effort to learn more information about our history using our genetic data, we could be negatively impacting our future.


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Up next: Data Privacy Part Four

Enterprise Artificial Intelligence – Academic Theory or Ready for Primetime?

Solvetheunsolvable has already explored various aspects of consumer AI and products purporting to leverage AI technologies, but is AI for Enterprise ready for primetime?

Investors aren’t the only ones betting big on Artificial Intelligence, it turns out Higher Education is also investing heavily into the space. With heavy investment in research and development, enterprise level AI seems to be having a rocky start.  Earlier this month Northeastern University allocated $50 million to an Institute for Experiential Artificial Intelligence. This institute will be dedicated to uniting leading experts to solve the world’s unsolvable problems.

“This new institute, the first of its kind, will focus on enabling artificial intelligence and humans to collaborate interactively around solving problems in health, security, and sustainability. We believe that the true promise of AI lies not in its ability to replace humans, but to optimize what humans do best.”


Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun

This isn’t Northeastern’s first step into the world of Artificial Intelligence and Automation. They already have an Institute for Experiential Robotics that is bringing together engineers, sociologists and other experts, including economists, to design and build robots with abilities to learn and execute human behaviors.  Northeastern isn’t just building Institutes for experts to conduct research, they are making it a priority to prepare their students for success in the age of artificial intelligence. They have an entire curriculum dedicated to what they call, humanics which is a key part of their strategic plan, Northeastern 2025.

Northeastern 2025 Promo Video

“We are building on substantial strengths across all colleges in the university,” said Carla Brodley, dean of the Khoury College of Computer Sciences. “Experiential AI is highly relevant to our mission.”

Though Northeastern is an example of one university betting heavily on AI, they are not alone in their quest to equip students with proper education for the AI-enabled future. In fact, government agencies are getting involved in funding AI in Education. The UK has pledged to invest £400 million in math, digital and technical education through the government’s AI sector deal to protect Britain’s technology sector amid Brexit and an additional £13 million for postgraduate education on AI. In the US, just a few days ago, the National Science Foundation announced a joint federal program to fund research focused on artificial intelligence at colleges, universities and nonprofit or nonacademic organizations focused on educational or research activities. 

The National Science Foundation is awarding $120 million to fund planning grants and support up to six institutes, but there’s a catch. Each institute must have a principal focus on at least one of six themes:

  • Trustworthy AI
  • Foundations of Machine Learning
  • AI-Driven Innovation in Agriculture and the Food System
  • AI-Augmented Learning
  • AI for Accelerating Molecular Synthesis and Manufacturing
  • AI for Discovery in Physics

As universities and governments bet big on the future of AI and education, it underscores the importance of AI on a global scale in the future, but does it call into question the current existence of AI solutions ready to take business to the next level? Utilizing AI and automation will be imperative for corporations to remain competitive and for the advancement of business, but when will the floodgates be swept open, and by who, remains a mystery.

Will you leap into the future and embrace AI now? How do you see the futuristic vision of enterprise AI transform your business? Challenge Solvetheunsolvable with your business conundrum or leave your thoughts in the comments below and let’s explore what AI can do for you. 


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