Important Changes at GEDmatch

If you have not logged into GEDmatch recently, please do so and either accept the new terms and conditions or don’t. Unless you are clearly USA based*, your kits will not be visible to your relatives any more unless you accept. I have linked to numerous other blogs at the end of this article to help you make your choice. I recommend reading either the one from Roberta Estes or EU users, the one from Debbie Kennett. Both look carefully at the new terms and conditions which are not very different from before.

Frankly, I was surprised by the panic expressed last week by some in the genetic genealogy world on FaceBook due to the sale of our beloved GEDmatch DNA tools site to a forensic science company. Personally, I hate knee jerk reactions so I did some research into this company, Verogen, as well as communicated extensively with Curtis Rodgers, one of the GEDmatch founders, and Kim Mohr, a spokesperson for Verogen.

To remind you all, GEDmatch is the best place to compare DNA tests done at different companies to each other or just to see the actual chromosome locations shared by two Ancestry testers. While both Family Tree DNA (ftDNA) and MyHeritage accept uploads of tests from other companies so you can compare on those sites, neither has the extensive tools of GEDmatch. FtDNA compares down to very small segments which can be useful in a family project but leads to inaccurate relationship estimates. MyHeritage does not show the X chromosome and neither company shows the fully identical segments (FIRs) that full siblings will have, which can be so helpful (click here).

The DNA Applications menu at GEDmatch

GEDmatch has many useful additional tools, such as “People who match both or 1 of 2 kits ,” an “Are your parents related?” test, the ability to see who matches you on a specific segment, being able to check for full siblings rather than half, and automated triangulation, to name a few of my favorites (click those words to go to that post when I did one or click here for my more general GEDmatch articles). Plus it has GEDCOM comparison utilities. Compare yours to all the ones in the database or to just one other.

GEDmatch became a center of controversy when it was discovered that genetic genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter, working with law enforcement (LE). had solved the Golden State Killer case (click here) using that site. Since that time, there have been more controversies around law enforcement’s use of the site and many overblown scare articles in the press. Personally if my DNA outs a distant cousin who is a murderer or rapist, that’s fine with me. Genetic genealogy techniques are used as a tip; no one is arrested without getting their DNA from discarded materials and seeing if it is a match to the crime scene. I know some people are afraid of the possibility of false arrests, but that just does not happen with these modern techniques. You can, as before, choose to opt out of allowing LE to see your results on GEDmatch when looking for cousin matches to the dna of the perp or the unidentified victim.

In recent months, there have been more problems, news stories and controversies, including a Florida search warrant being granted. One has to feel for the two retired hobbyists who founded GEDmatch to help in their research and ultimately help us all, keeping most of the features free. Clearly getting the site owned and managed by a more professional group would be of great advantage to the users. Curtis spent several months looking for the right partner that would respect the original misson of GEDmatch and yet deal appropriately with LE, the EU, and security issues. He and the programmers, the two Johns, will continue to work on the site as consultants.

So who or what is Verogen? Two years ago this company was spun off from Illumina (the maker of the chips and machines that all the consumer oriented DNA testing companies use to sequence your DNA). It has 50 plus employees and plans to continue growing. Their office is in a small office park near UCSD here in San Diego.

Photo of Verogen headquarters thanks to Google Maps street view

The mission statement is listed on the company about page at https://verogen.com/company/. This statement there caught my eye

“Our sole focus is to advance science to help unlock the true potential of forensic genomics. Powered by Illumina technology and free of legacy method allegiance, we are uniquely positioned to support forensic labs with innovative solutions purpose-built for the challenges of DNA identification.”

To quote Curtis in his correspondance with me about Verogen,

“[I] have spent time with the CEO at a conference and been to their office.  I hope you have seen the statement by the CEO that they will fight any LE intrusion (warrants, using other than the LE database).  In my discussions, they promised to continue our policies to protect our users. They now have gone one step further than we were able, to protect our users wishes. This was not covered in our discussions. The CEO (Brett Williams) got a lot of flack from LE for the stance he announced but he is serious.”

Here is the press release on their site https://verogen.com/gedmatch-partners-with-genomics-firm/

The new facebook page for GEDmatch

One thing I like already is that they have created an official facebook page which they keep updated with their progress in solving some of the problems that have come up.

I would like to tell you dear readers that the reason it has taken me so long to blog about this topic is the hours of careful research I have put in. The truth is that I have been slowed down by being bedridden for over a week now with a nasty cold thanks to my grandson!

As promised, here are some blog posts from respected genetic genealogists on this change at GEDmatch:

* The EU rule, the GDPR, requires express consent for the transfer of user data therefore the move of the GEDmatch database to Verogen requires that consent. Many other non US countries have similar rules so Verogen is trying to comply with them.

Disclaimer: I have done paid work for GEDmatch in the past and sold them the code for my compact chromosome browser. I have helped with support requests, written many educational blog posts about them, given many presentations about what’s new at GEDmatch, am a power user with a complimentary Tier1 subscription, and consider Curtis a friend. So yes I am biased in their favor, but I do always strive to be fair in my writings.

print

19 thoughts on “Important Changes at GEDmatch

Click here to add your thoughts at the end of the comments
    • Leah, I do not understand your issue. Having a forensic focus does not prevent them from honoring our privacy as they have said they would. In fact they are far better equipped to deal with all the stuff that has arisen around GEDmatch than Curtis and John are. I have faith in Curtis’ choice. He was out of his depth with the issues that came up on GEDmatch.

  1. “Our sole focus is to advance science to help unlock the true potential of forensic genomics. Powered by Illumina technology and free of legacy method allegiance, we are uniquely positioned to support forensic labs with innovative solutions purpose-built for the challenges of DNA identification”.
    Now to me this is marketing gobbledegook. What does it really mean? I did google “legacy method allegiance“ with no results and what are the “innovative solutions” etc?
    I don’t mean to be tricky about this, in fact I will probably come across as dumb if these are terms used throughout the genetic genealogy population and I’m not on top of them.
    I convene a DNA group through our local Family history society and will need to explain this to them should they ask.

      • what I found about Legacy Method? —12 18 2019 – What is a legacy method?

        In computing, a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program, “of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system,” yet still in use. Often referencing a system as “legacy” means that it paved the way for the standards that would follow it. Mar 26 2019
        Legacy system – Wikipedia
        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legacy_system

  2. Kitty, thanks for your rational, well-reasoned, and well-informed article. This entire situation from the beginning has befuddled me. All of my kits remain in Gedmatch. I appreciate the effort the previous owners did to enable us to better work with our DNA matches and provide much-needed analysis tools. My position is if you don’t agree, don’t join. It seems like a very easy solution to me. Like you, I have no issue with LE using my DNA to catch criminals. This very same group who encouraged everyone to join and use Gedmatch are the very ones who now have issues with it. It’s amusing that they were so short-sighted. Anyone who thinks we have real privacy today is so misdirected. If you’ve ever owned a cell phone, most of us who work in related-genealogical fields can find you. Privacy we believed we had hasn’t existed for quite awhile.

    • Yes to everything you said. The knee jerk OH MY GOD GET YOUR DNA OFF GEDMATCH. YOU WILL BE STALKED AND CLONED AND ARRESTED! I’m there. My sister is there. My elderly aunt is there. We’ve all decided to stay each time this “sky is falling” subject comes up. I wonder how many people that we need to find our great grandparents have now taken their kits off. We may never find the answers we are looking for for such a long, long time.

  3. Thank you for this informative article. I love Gedmatch. I hate that there is a group of fear mongers trying to get everyone to see a sinister side of this transaction. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, though, given the current situation in our world in general . . . Bottom line for me is that Gedmatch got sold, but they plan to work even harder to protect our data.

  4. Thank you Kitty for being a voice of reason. This entire situation with Gedmatch has had me scratching my head from the beginning. Like you, if my DNA leads to the capture or identification of a criminal, that’s great.
    The tools available on the site have helped me for many years and I am and will continue to be a Tier 1 sustainer. I’m happy for Curtis.
    Thank you for always keeping us informed.

  5. The issue behind the concerns about GEDmatch weren’t LE was checking for matches against our kits. The issues were that GEDmatch violated their own terms of service in allowing more types of LE cases, and later on the Florida search warrant gave LE access to kits that had been opted out. So to state that you don’t have a problem with LE finding a criminal via your match is irrelevant. If we agree to the terms of service we expect the company to follow them, and if we opt out we don’t expect that to be ignored.

    Having said that, Verogen seems to take policies and fighting bad warrants more seriously than GEDmatch did, so we may actually be better off with them.

  6. I still have my kits on gedmatch, so I guess I have accepted the change of ownership for now. But isn’t it reasonable to be concerned about a site that was originally for hobbyists being owned by a company whose main purpose seems to be monetizing coordination with LE? I’m a little concerned.

  7. Overall, I tend to agree with you, Kitty. I had already warned my relatives to refrain from serial killing 😉 But seriously, identifying criminals is a use I can support as long as we are actively committed to making sure good science and civil rights are protected when DNA is used as evidence in criminal investigations. I do worry that genetic chimeras and transplant recipients face extra risk without explicit regulation and enforcement

    BUT perhaps you can address my only remaining concern: What in their disclosure as written, protects them from selling or transferring my raw DNA in future without my written permission?

  8. I received an email from Curtis Rogers today suggesting I should continue holding my DNA data on gedmatch. Haven’t been using it much lately especially after all the changes (but that is not relevant except that I was not aware of the change of ownership). One disappointing item was the fact that his email was “no-reply”; hardly inspired to provide discourse when he is not prepared to provide a return email.

    ‘Future’ – the following extract is of concern:

    We cannot predict what the future holds for DNA or genealogy research. We cannot predict what the future will be for GEDmatch. It is possible that, in the future, GEDmatch will merge with, or operations will be transferred to other individuals or entities. If that happens, the operating personnel at GEDmatch will change. GEDmatch reserves the right to provide access to your data (including Raw Data, Genealogy Data, profile information, and other personal information) to those other individuals or entities, which may include people not currently involved in GEDmatch operations.

    As it appears to over-ride any restrictions regarding opt-out or allowing access of your information to 3rd parties.

    While I am not US based, I am sure that other police/security agencies in other countires will be hoping (in the Future) to extend their reaches into the databases based on the spirit of cooperation between countries of course.

  9. A further comment – I just read the following article on the Florida search –
    “https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/05/business/dna-database-search-warrant.html”
    The warrant from the Florida court allowed access to ALL records on the Gedcom database so Gedcom mgmt had to roll over; so the opt-out flag is now useless as all future serches from the police etc will be using a similar worded court order to the Florida order to ensure they can access all the records.

    I wonder how long it will be before Ancestry has to cave in. At least MyHeritage is not US based and the EU is much better about protecting privacy.

  10. Here’s a not unreasonable scenario:
    LE (or third party working with LE): We don’t have a warrant, and gedmatch terms of service say no synthetic DNA sample uploads, but here’s a raw DNA sample we collected, and a list of locations that might be relevant.
    Verogen: Okay, we’ll make a synthetic sample and then make a gedmatch kit.
    LE: But we still don’t have a warrant.
    Verogen: Don’t worry, we own the database and aren’t LE, so (1) we don’t need a warrant; and (2) we’re not bound by “kit not for LE” requests from users. We’re just doing research.
    Verogen (later): We did some common ancestor analysis and have a few names that might match the DNA sample.

  11. Received the email recently re my location being unknown. Not US based. Confused as to where do I now log in to so that my data can be reactivated..

  12. The fact that we have so little privacy left does not mean that we need to give what little we might have left away.
    I am a long time user of GedMatch and have been very happy with their service, but I am still not convinced of the new owners. Unless I can be convinced otherwise, I will reluctantly not sign up with the new company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.