Please Opt In at GEDmatch

In these modern divisive times, even the genetic genealogy community has been torn into two camps. Is it modern nature to react with emotion rather than thought? With the “are you with us or them”? Is this what overuse of social media has done to us? I can see both sides of the issue. Some of you may wonder what I am even talking about ….

Cece Moore on Dr Phil explaining how she uses DNA to find criminals (click image to go to that site for the article and video)

The problem has arisen because Law Enforcement (LE) has been using DNA and genealogy databases to help find violent criminals and to resolve many old and cold cases like the Golden State Killer (GSK) case. They are using the techniques and tools that were developed for breaking genealogical brick walls and helping adoptees find their biological families. Personally, I applaud this usage and the closure it brings to the families of the victims. A dear 4th cousin of mine lived in fear during her adolescent years in Sacramento because of the GSK.

However the issues of concern for many genealogists are privacy and consent. Frankly, I think you should not test your DNA if privacy is a worry of yours. So many people have tested now that you can be easily identified if you do it too. My son and two nephews have chosen not test for that reason.

How about consent? Consider the site GEDmatch.com, which was developed to let people compare their DNA tests with testers from other companies, as well as provide many helpful additional tools. If you uploaded your DNA there in the past, had you given your consent for this usage? After the GSK case. I marked all the kits I control as research until each person had responded with permission to open it up. Most were happy with the thought that their DNA might out a distant cousin who was a criminal. Polls show that 90% of Americans are OK with this too.

I have been asking everyone again since GEDmatch now has an specific opt in on each kit for LE usage of those test results in comparisons. There is also an opt in for whether the link to your WIKItree compact tree should show. Both are important. Until many more people have opted in, the benefit of the database for LE is very limited.

Why the opt in now? Why is the genetic genealogy community so divided? What happened?

For the past many months if you uploaded to GEDmatch you saw terms and conditions that stated that law enforcement could use the site for murderers, rapists, and victim identification. Then a 79 year-old woman was assaulted in a church and left for dead. This did not fit the Ts+Cs, but it was very close and the criminal was still out there; so Curtis at GEDmatch gave permission for LE to use the database on this case. Uproar ensued.

Click here for an excellent article from the Salt Lake City Tribune explaining what happened in that case.

At the end of this article I list a number of posts from genetic genealogists that I respect who discuss the issues that resulted in the new opt in requirement.

This is the email and/or PM I recently sent to friends and family:

There is a new “opt in” at Gedmatch, the site where you can compare your DNA to people who tested at other companies.

You gave me your DNA data to upload there and it has been most useful to me.

Now the question is are you willing to allow law enforcement to use it for comparisons to catch violent criminals. Put simply, the DNA of people like us with good trees can be used to solve crimes which I think is great. If this ever starts to be abused we can remove it.

Now for my friends and family who are willing, here is how to give your permission if you have uploaded your kit to GEDmatch yourself:

  1. Click here to Log into GEDmatch GENESIS
  2. Scroll down – in the left hand column under the words “Your DNA Resources” you will see a list of all the kits you manage.
  3. Kits that are not opted in for LE usage look like this, a Police icon with a red X across it
  4. Kits that are opted in, have the Police icon without the red X over them
  5. Click the icon or the pencil next to it to edit your profile and change the permission
  6. On the edit page at the bottom you will see this
  7. Please check the circle next to “Public with Law Enforcement access” in if you are comfortable with this usage. Remember no one can actually see your DNA test results. What they get with this permission is the ability to compare the kit of a violent offender or victim with your kit to see if you are related to them. In practice they will do a “one to many” on the kit in question and your kit will only show in the results if you are some kind of match and you have opted in.
  8. As to WIKItree, you have to have a tree there and add your kit number to your profile there.
  9. Check back at Gedmatch in the next day or two for the opt into WIKItree options (currently I am not seeing them on my profiles for some reason)

Further reading:

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12 thoughts on “Please Opt In at GEDmatch

Click here to add your thoughts at the end of the comments
  1. No one should be under the illusion that privacy exists in any way, shape or form in the “internet age.” People who fear that loss because of GEDmatch are delusional. It’s been gone many years, long before GEDmatch or genetic genealogy came along. I would posit those people google their own names and gauge their “privacy.” They should also pay attention to the ads that “suddenly” appear everywhere you go after a targeted subject search on google. They should pay attention to the path a search goes on ancestry dot com, newspapers dot com, and other sites you wouldn’t think of…They are slowed down because the searches are channeled through Facebook along the way. I sincerely hope the majority of kits on GEDmatch are opted-in! Thanks for all you do, Kitty.

  2. Thank you for being a voice of reason. I have unsubscribed and will no longer follow a few of the most vocal leading genealogists. It breaks my heart that the leaders in our field have fostered such division and has personally stopped my desire to become BCG certified.

    It seems to me this issue was blown way out of proportion. I did not give consent for adoptees (and the junior detectives who help them) to use my DNA, but they do and people applaud them for it. Why shouldn’t my DNA be used by real detectives to generate leads to fight crime?

  3. Opening up my DNA for Law Enforcement to use to solve crimes is one thing. My concern is what comes next, because there are lots of other possible uses for our DNA that can come back and bite us, such as denial of insurance coverage because of genetic predisposition for certain diseases. Far fetched? Maybe. But I never anticipated years ago when I first tested that my DNA would be used for crime solving, either.

    Those of us who choose not to Opt In at GEDmatch are not backwards, irresponsible people who want criminals to go free, as we are being portrayed. Database Terms of Service change and we have the responsibility of knowing what those changes are and agreeing to abide by them or not. My choice is not yours. Both are responsible decisions.

  4. People have a very legitimate right to make choices that protect them AND FUTURE Ancestors because the future is unknown. That being said, Kitty, the Genealogy profession blew this from day one. The number one concern that has been NOT emphasized enough is FULL INFORMED CONSENT. If LE would have approached folks and asked them, can we have your DNA, we need to develop a data base? Do you think all folks would have enthusiastically said yes, by all mean….but was not presented that way. It was, “we caught the bad guy”. It was presented as “if you don’t support this you support hiding bad people”… People who choose to opt out have every right to be respected and not judged! Most folks are just interested in knowing more about themselves and their families history, not being included in giant databases. Please DO NOT FRAME this issue as black & white as it as been portrayed. It is a extremely complex issue and deserves every right to be handled with extreme care. I respect you and I also respect your family members who chose NOT to share DNA.

  5. Originally we were told that gedmatch would be used to catch people like the golden state killer. A policeman approached the owner of gedmatch and talked him into allowing the use of the database in a way that went against stated policy.

    Where will it end?

    The information that I uploaded pertains to a large number of people. If used for genealogy it is harmless. I am all for helping to catch murderers but I don’t think I have the right to put the DNA of my relatives into the hands of the police unless they say it’s okay.

  6. I am fine with my DNA used to solve a rape case.

    I am concerned that authorities in places like Alabama and Georgia will use my test to prosecute a woman exercising her right to choose under their absolutely insane new laws.

  7. I am a firm believer in Opting In! I feel all children should be DNA tested and registered at birth. If this is done we wouldn’t have this concern today, our footprints and fingerprints are out there . . . . . why not our DNA. If we had the DNA out there we probably wouldn’t have so many missing children, as the information would be a way to locate any missing child. I also feel it might serve as a deterrent to some of our crimes and help to solve many “unsolved” cases. I also agree there is NO privacy any more with the internet and social media you can find out almost anything about anyone if you look for it on the internet or on social media or on any of the applications out on the internet paid for free that can look up anyone’s personal information, so why should everyone be so concerned. I appreciate all the articles that you have provided for all of us to learn and apply to our family searches and inquiries.

    • Catherine, I agee that all babies should be dna tested at birth!

      People are still not grasping this! No one is going to see your DNA!!!!!
      We are talking about people seeing your MATCH LIST!!!

      No one is going to see your DNA!!!

  8. If you do not have years of research under your belt gedmatch will mean nothing to you. And even if you do have that research you still won’t have your info fall into place easily for you or anyone else.

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