AI, Analytics, Big Data, Digital Strategy, Privacy, Risk Management

Is Your DNA Privacy Protected? – Probably Not – Read Why

9 Sep , 2023  

Companies often grapple with the challenges of respecting customer privacy. Although most firms do not seek to cause or do harm, data breaches, inadvertent misuse of data, and unauthorized publishing of data seem to ultimately happen. Data on a social media site, on a shopping site, or from your gym membership may seem sensitive. But, the most sensitive data is surely one’s own, unique DNA.

Now, DNA is being publishing, shared, and studied in great ways. Over 1 million Americans have shared their DNA with genealogical sites and many hundreds more do so each week. Researchers published in the Journal of Science have calculated that over 60% of the people with European descent can be linked to a third cousin or closer.

It is a staggering thought and reminds us that we ultimately share a common heritage and DNA explains all of our difference and similarities.

Recently, law enforcers used DNA submitted by family members to genealogical sites to identify and charge the Golden State killer. Another 13 murder suspects have been found simply through clever DNA sloughing. This is a great advance for human society – no crime is without reach. DNA family searching will soon be a standard procedure for investigating crimes.

Studying the human race in such detail will surely have great benefits. Ideally, we will use this new power and control to positively impact life.

However, what are the implications for fraud, privacy, and even the control of our own precious, unique DNA? With the DNA available online and a few pieces of information like possible age and place or birth, we can all be found through our family trees. That is amazing. Can this be used or abused by insurers? Perhaps it can be used to find better organ donations? Still, the challenge is that we have lost control or never seceded over control of this important personal marker to groups that may indeed use it without our best interest in mind.

More data will surely lead to better health and treatment options. But can DNA be used to filter out gamblers, people subject to bad financial decisions, or just people that left their DNA in the form of a dropped hair at a crime scene? Do the deeds of a family members define one today?

DNA is our data. It defines us and now it can be used to define us literally. We can copyright a picture and prevent others from using it or recreating it by law. Now, our DNA can be captured, stored, published, shared, and liked to our identity without permission. Indeed, our pictures have more protection than does our own DNA.

With or without permission, it is conceivable that one’s relatives (current and past) can be fully published. Go to Facebook and find everyone that is kin with just a saliva swipe and a DNA test. Could this information about families be used or abused by universities to admit students or simply as a means to hire, offer loans, or just create new planes of differentiation in society?

Say a distant cousins of yours submitted a DNA sample. That plus birth records and Facebook data can quite well determine your identity and even provide a strong estimation of your (unique) DNA. Closer relative data make the analysis easier and more precise. The last wall of privacy has been breached.

Today, you can find all of your biological relatives (nearly) and they or anyone else can find you. The ability to reverse DNA matches and identify family members is amazing. It is also an amazing invasion of privacy with profound implications on the ethics of treatment of all people.

Check out the fascinating article in the Journal of Science.

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From Big Data to Big Profits: Getting the Most from Your Data and Analytics”

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About Russell Walker, Ph.D.

Professor Russell Walker helps companies develop strategies to manage risk and harness value through analytics and Big Data.


His most recent and award-winning book, From Big Data to Big Profits: Success with Data and Analytics is published by Oxford University Press (2015), which explores how firms can best monetize Big Data through digital strategies. He is the author of the text Winning with Risk Management (World Scientific Publishing, 2013), which examines the principles and practice of risk management through business case studies.

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Russell Walker helps companies develop strategies to manage risk and harness value through analytics and big data. He has done novel research in data monetization and digital disruption and advises leading firms on these topics. As Director of Experiential Learning in Analytics and Associate Teaching Professor of Marketing and International Business at the Foster School of Business, at the University of Washington, Dr. Walker is an academic thought-leader on analytics. Russell Walker has developed and taught leading executive programs on Big Data and Analytics, Strategic Data-Driven Marketing, Enterprise Risk, Operational Risk, and Global Leadership. Previous to moving to Seattle and the Foster School, Dr. Walker was Clinical Professor at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, where he founded and taught many popular courses in analytics and risk management. His is the author of the book From Big Data to Big Profits: Success with Data and Analytics (Oxford University Press, 2015) which examines data monetization strategies and the development of data-centric business models in the new digital economy. He is also the author of the award-winning text Winning with Risk Management (World Scientific Publishing, 2013), which examines the principles and practice of risk management as a competitive advantage. Dr. Walker consults with firms on the topics of Big Data and Analytics, Data Monetization, Risk Management, and Business Strategy. Russell Walker can be reached at: @RussWalker1776

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