Why do the privacy rules with DNA appear backwards?

+6 votes

I have asked this in the past but I had less knowledge of wikitree than I do today.

People's concerns about DNA privacy almost entirely center around autosomal, and significantly less about yDNA. 

Two of the comments on another thread made by Peter Roberts caught my attention.  

1. "Also, some auDNA testers have their profile as private.  However on their immediate ancestor's profiles"

2. "If the ID was only on their [private] profile then there would be no useful information."

I believe that when we set a profile to private, we provide a name and way to contact the profile manager.   But the useful information that we actually provide is enough 

"for cousins trying to determine the shared ancestry of their [private and public profile] DNA matches"

I was asked to demonstrate the problem.  I was give a profile and on that profile was a DNA match to a private profile.

Within seconds, I was able to know the parents of this person whose profile was private.  I would not have been able to do this, at least so easily, if wikitree provided the same level of Privacy as yDNA and mtDNA. I would also not have been able to determine the identity of a private profile using yDNA or mtDNA so easily, if at all if yDNA and mtDNA used the privacy associated with auDNA.

I understand that implementing privacy is not perfectly secure, but that does not explain why yDNA and mtDNA are more secure than auDNA. It seems that people's concerns are the opposite as well.

Now, because the gedmatch ids are also provided, I was able to determine the mother and child were biologically related. I was also able to obtain an email address I might not have otherwise been able to get.

Edit: This is how you get the "immediate ancestor" of a profile, and how you get useful information from a private profile.

in Policy and Style by Ken Sargent G2G6 Mach 5 (57.9k points)
edited by Ken Sargent
Too many people take DNA tests but don't wish to collaborate with their relatives.  It is the sound of one hand clapping.


Peter, I am not sure how your analogy is related to the Original Post. Some people clap if they approve of something, and don't clap if they don't approve. We should respect their decision.

23andme did list DNA matches of people that wished to remain private, and it was a disaster. 23andme is moving to remove them from lists by forcing everyone to make a different choice when they log into their new site.This is why I was and still am confused as to why Wikitree would want to repeat this.

The yDNA/mtDNA are treated differently the auDNA and this decision has never been explained. 

What was and is the benefit of placing the name of a private profile on a public profile?  

Why is auDNA from private profile placed on public profiles and yDNA/mtDNA are not?

These are legitimate questions to ask and should be simple ones to explain.

When people place their DNA results on a private profile, they certainly don't expect the type of DNA test to affect their privacy. It true, if you follow the trail of help to the FAQ, it does inform you.    

Gedmatch was forced to stop uploading FTDNA Raw data because the Gedmatch id contained the FTDNA kit number.  This was a privacy issue for FTDNA.  Wikitree now provides this functionality, even on profiles that are marked private.

Those who added their FTDNA ID to WikiTree chose to do so.  If they don't want their ID in WikiTree then they can remove it from their profile.

DNA testing is more useful when you compare your results with others.  You don't hear much when you clap with one hand.

You may have missed the questions...

The yDNA/mtDNA are treated differently [than] the auDNA and this decision has never been explained. 

What was and is the benefit of placing the name of a private profile on a public profile?  

Why is auDNA from private profile placed on public profiles and yDNA/mtDNA are not?

These are legitimate questions to ask and should be simple ones to explain.

The answers to these questions will allow us to answer the question posed in the Orginal Post....

"Why do the privacy rules with DNA appear backwards? "

I have to agree with Ken on this one - although the 'default' settings at FTDNA for privacy had to change to comply with EU considerations I was sympathetic to Peter's assumptions at the time. However, with the EU passing more stringent requirements recently, and the possible end of the 'Safe Harbour' provision regarding the privacy of genetic results I have to agree with Ken that the default at WikiTree should be complete privacy unless the profile manager/DNA test taker asserts to share. Even then some details like the FTDNA kit# may be an issue. If WikiTree is truly a world family project then these are quite valid considerations.

1 Answer

+3 votes
But that is true on almost any website especially for genealogical researchers.  If you have one profile/ancestor with a name and a birthdate, a genealogist can work down to the test taker.  I have done it a few times on Ancestry matches.  But I respect their privacy and try not include any identifying information when I add them, and immediate relatives, to my tree.  I use their member id and leave bio fields blank. Same goes for Family Search.

The privacy levels on any website, that is meant to be shared, is more about letting the other researchers know to back off a little from probing to deeply than it is about blocking hackers.  When I see a red lock, I move along.  y and mt may seem more secure superficially but once you are on a public site with people who have access to other public sites and documents......

I say again, a lock on any account on any website is meant for YOU (collective plural).
by Kathleen Heath G2G6 Mach 2 (20.6k points)
Kathleen, I appreciate your response but not all people act the way you do and the focus of the question is related to why are yDNA/mtDNA different than auDNA.

Also, the argument for not treating them the same is because they don't want to loose the ability to find the immediate ancestor of a private profile or to get useful information from a private profile even though you might not go further.

The objects that are exposed for Private profiles are well documented. If yDNA and mtDNA tests are added, there is no change.  But once you add auDNA, The profile and DNA Information is placed on every profile up to and including 3rd cousins and 8 generations back in time.

One example of useful information that someone didn't want to loose was related to publishing ftdna #.  If a profile added a ydna test, this information is secure on wikitree, but once an auDNA test is added with this number, you could look in the public database to see if a ydna test was taken.
My mistake.  I have not seen this happen.

I just did an experiment,  I set my level to red privacy.  Then pulled up other family members' profiles on another tab.  Whatever DNA tests I entered that is related to the more open profiles of my family is shown. Y, mt, and family finder from FTDNA and au from Ancestry.

I do not see how there is any difference between how the tests are handled BY wikitree.

From your example "publishing ftdna #.  If a profile added a ydna test, this information is secure on wikitree, but once an auDNA test is added with this number" is a problem created BY Family Tree DNA because they do not give separate kit numbers for their y-, mt-, or au- tests.

Kathleen, Thank you for taking the time to do this experiment. Unfortunately, you need to wait a day to see the results.

You should not see much or any changes to your own profile.  This is because you are on the trusted list as manager.  You will see the difference tomorrow on your more open files.

Tomorrow, The yDNA and mtDNA results will disappear from those more open profiles but the auDNA will remain just as they appear today.

Edit: If you do make your profile private, since I will have no trouble using the auDNA information to find your connection to your parents, I will have a clear connection to each of your blood relatives.  It would be less clear as to your how you are related to anyone else if only your mtDNA is propagated to all your female relatives.

24 hours later.

My profile is red level privacy.

Without signing into WikiTree, I pulled up my mother's profile by searching her name.  This was done to avoid any conditions of my being the profile manager or on the trusted list having an effect on what is shown.

My mt test from ftdna and the au test from Ancestry appear on her profile.  The mt test is not handled differently than the au test.

In answer to your post and subsequent elaborations about private name appearing on a public profile and why - if you want to control the information about your DNA test then you have to change it at the point of entry.

If you want the convenience of auto-populated lists of DNA ancestors plus the ability to connect to others researching the same ancestors (or them finding you) but without anyone knowing your name, then change the information associated with the tests at the testing company. Enter that altered information onto WikiTree and your privacy will be secret.

It is the information from the testing company that is entered and released.  WikiTree just populates lists based on the information you give it.

Kathleen, There is no dispute that yDNA/mtDNA tests are treated differently than auDNA, and it would be nice for someone else to confirm this to you. The fact you still believe they are treated the same helps prove my point.

I should not have said "You will see the results tomorrow" but "You should see your results sometime tomorrow".  

The way the process works, People make their profile private and then look to see that the DNA is not on other pages.It's not there, so they feel comfortable.

This is no different than those who put their DNA on their profile page but don't see it on their parents.  This question appears frequently and the answer is to wait until after the process has run, which is usually once a day.

Part of my point is that the privacy of auDNA does not work as one would expect but yDNA/mtDNA does.  Because auDNA does not, it has the effect of changing your privacy setting from Private to Private with Public tree. You can now easily, in most cases, connect the private profile of the child with the parent.

The only arguments I have seen are that this information is useful, so it shouldn't be protected.  The solution given in these cases is to not put your auDNA in the profile if this is a concern.  To me, this seems to be saying "Buyer Beware".

Related questions

+8 votes
1 answer
+7 votes
2 answers
+5 votes
0 answers
+5 votes
1 answer
289 views asked May 12, 2018 in WikiTree Help by Lance Martin G2G6 Pilot (113k points)
+8 votes
8 answers
+8 votes
1 answer
+11 votes
1 answer
+19 votes
6 answers

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright