12 August 2013

DNA: False Advertising?

23andme.com advertisement as seen on Facebook.
What Nationality Are You?
Find out how much African, Asian, and European ancestry you have.

I noticed this advertisement after my last DNA series. Thought I'd save it for my next run of DNA posts but it'll be a while before I have time to write those. I have the results for my great-aunt but haven't time to get into the matches and new features. Hopefully by the time my brother gets his results I'll find time to do another series. Anyway, back to the ad.
How can we expect the general public and potential DNA test taker to grasp the basics of autosomal DNA when those selling the tests don't understand the fundamentals? A DNA test cannot tell you your nationality. Nationality is determined by birth or naturalization, not DNA.
Let's say you were born in the United States but all four of your grandparents were born in France. Is a DNA test going to tell you you're American? No. Your passport will, a DNA test will not. You get your DNA from your parents. Their DNA did not change just because they, or their parents or grandparents, crossed an ocean or a few borders. The test will also not tell you what percentage of your ethnicity is from France. Which bring us to the next ad...

ancestryDNA advertisement as seen on Huffington Post.
What are your countries of origin?
Find the full story of your ethnicity.

England, France and Spain? None of those are possible results with ancestryDNA. Countries of origin? Countries and borders have changed throughout history. No one will get results telling them what country their ancestors were from with ancestryDNA. The results are regional, no countries, no specific native tribes. Here is the list of possible results:

British Isles
Central African
Central Asian
Central European
East African
East Asian
Eastern European
European Jewish
Middle Eastern
Native North American
Native South American
North African
Pacific Islander
South Asian
Southern African
Southern European
West African

Do you see England, France or Spain on that list? Do you see any result that is a single country? Outside of the name of the test and the link to purchase the test, nothing in that ad is accurate.
Then there's "the full story" claim. There are thousands of us with a large percentage of "uncertain" who are still waiting for the full story.
The final advertisement for today is after the jump.

ⓑⓐⓡⓚⓘⓝⓖ  ⓤⓟ  ⓣⓗⓔ  ⓦⓡⓞⓝⓖ  ⓣⓡⓔⓔ

Above: Posted on a page hosted by Ancestry.com
An ancestryDNA banner ad at the top, not unusual, and a link to ancestryDNA with Ms. Williams words, 
"...and my DNA analysis was done..." 
Link to the original Los Angeles Times article.
Below: The end of the article. "Get your Ancestry DNA test today!" in the same font as the questions in the article.
The link, of course, goes to the ancestryDNA page.

Ancestry.com's marketing and legal departments must be geniuses. They:
  • were able to get the Los Angeles Times to waive all copyrights on the original article. There's not so much as a 'used with permission' on the page and it was copied in its entirety without a link back to the original.
  • managed to get Vanessa Williams to agree to implicitly endorse their DNA test even though it wasn't the test she took. That must have cost them a small fortune.
  • avoided violating truth in advertising laws though I'm not sure how since the test Vanessa Williams took was not the ancestryDNA test. Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, Benin, Senegal and Portuguese are not even possible test results with ancestryDNA.
Amazing. I am not a lawyer but I don't think any of those things are likely. It is possible that Ms. Williams took a test in conjunction with an ancestryDNA test but there are no disclaimers stating that. Unfortunately most people will not question anything in the article which will result in more of this...

Both the post and the comment were written by the same person. A consultation with his "family lawyer" will probably charge more than the DNA test but that's not the point. The point is selling more tests has become more important than honesty or customer satisfaction.
Full disclosure...I have purchased four ancestryDNA tests after receiving one for free. While I would love it if more people took this particular test to increase the database, I do not want them duped into it. If you are considering an autosomal DNA test you should also look into FamilyTreeDNA and National Geographic's Genographic Project.

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1 comment:

  1. I did the ancestry DNA test....I already knew where my ancestors were from, my mother actually insisted to dispute/prove a particular claim of heritage that we(my brothers and I)have teased her about for years. She was vindicated...lol