With the fast accumulation of genetic data from consumer DNA tests, and the rapid advances in methodology for genetic-based inference, the use of genetic data for marketing purposes is likely to become more and more common in the future. This is the blunt conclusion from a US team at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In their report in the Journal of Marketing , they provide telling examples of how DNA data are beginning to become part of microtargeting. Microtargeting is a marketing strategy that uses consumer data and demographics to identify the interests of specific individuals or very small groups of like-minded individuals to influence their thoughts or actions.
How many times have you been discussing a holiday or a type of product, only to find your social media feed full of related images and adverts? This is no coincidence. This is a form of microtargeting. But how could our DNA be fished for embedded preferences and habits, and wouldn’t our permission be needed?
Sharing DNA data
DNA data sharing in advertising is already happening, writes the Genetic Literacy Project, and it can already affect your playlists and holidays. In 2018, Spotify announced that AncestryDNA results can create a unique mix of music, inspired by your origins. In 2019, Airbnb teamed with genetic testing company 23andMe to facilitate ‘heritage travel’, whereby they pinpoint destinations of interest based on your ancestral data.
Whatever the exact form and scope of genetic data, using them presents broad ethical and legal challenges. The US researchers reported, “The use of genetic data by marketers might create threats to consumer autonomy and privacy. There is also potential for misinformation because consumers’ perceptions of genetics might lead them to believe that genetic-based recommendations are always backed by solid science, which might not always be the case.”
Despite Covid-19, hundreds of thousands of DNA test kits still went out to members of the public in 2020. Not everyone reads the fine print when signing off on permission for the testing company to share data with other companies. Informed consent is another issue. A clinical trial participant signs off on exactly how personal data will be used, and if a new use for a test result comes along, new consent is required. That’s not the case for the general permission a consumer provides.
Privacy and DNA testing with AlphaBiolabs
AlphaBiolabs can reassure its customers that its DNA testing is 100% confidential and data security is paramount. We password protect all data and only discuss any details of our DNA testing with those who are entitled to know (on receipt of correct passwords or answers to unique security questions). All of our reports are sent as a pdf file that require a password to open them. This password is picked by the person who instructs the test and protects the report from being opened by anyone who doesn’t know the password.
We limit access to your personal data to those employees, agents, contractors and other third parties who have a business need to know. They will only process your personal data on our instructions and they are subject to a duty of confidentiality.
We also work hard to prevent your personal data from being disclosed or accessed in an unauthorised way by using a secure server that protects any financial transactions on our website. We also take appropriate physical, electronic and managerial measures to ensure that any data disclosed to us are kept secure. In addition, we adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation. This means that DNA samples are destroyed after 3 months and all identification paperwork – hard copy and electronic files – are destroyed after 12 months.
Even if the use of consumer DNA data in microtargeting is flawed, it’s here to stay, conclude the authors of the new paper. However, you can be reassured that when you choose AlphaBiolabs as your testing partner, you won’t be a victim of microtargeting as a result. If you have any queries or require further information, please call AlphaBiolabs on 0333 600 1300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Genetic Data: Potential Uses and Misuses in Marketing. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0022242920980767