30 August 2012

Ancestry.com and the DNA Business - Oil and Water?

I am beginning to think I have this title correct...

Oil being the slippery Ancestry.com, and their jumping into the Gene Pool is the water.

Obviously, whatever the analogy, the two are not mixing well, at all!

When Ancestry.com first tested Y-DNA there were errors in predicting haplogroups.  It was discovered that they did not do the proper SNP testing and were using some online guides to predicting a person's haplogroup or twig on the world family tree (Phylogenetic Tree).  I had several people in different audiences who told me of this delimma as well.  Two first cousins were predicted as R1b and G haplogroups.  Later testing determined they were indeed first cousins, but as any person, even those new to DNA, knows you have to have the same haplogroup to be closely related.

So, fast forward...Ancestry.com has decided it is in their best interest to offer autosomal testing.  Previously, I mentioned a few issues in this blog with their attempt to join the other companies in this field and the issues that have surfaced.

The following post from Debbie Kennett, with her kind permission, is an update on some of the problems. After reading her post, I urge all of you to read my criteria on choosing a genetic testing company.

I also might add that in my post for the 2012 WDYTYA (Who Do You Think You Are?) Conference in London, Ken Chahine was in the audience of a Family Tree DNA presentation....obviously he was there to learn like the others...or checking out the competition!  Too bad he didn't take better notes!

AncestryDNA's response to my request for my raw genetic data

As discussed in my previous blog post one of the major drawbacks of AncestryDNA's new autosomal DNA test is that they do not currently allow their customers access to their raw genetic data. Ken Chahine,the Senior Vice President and General Manager, DNA, at Ancestry.com has publicly stated at a meeting of the Presidential Committee for Bioethical Issues in Washington, D.C., his belief that "the customer retains ownership of their DNA and their data" [my italics]. Thegenetic genealogy blogger CeCe Moore has been told by John Pereira, the Vice President of Business Development at Ancestry.com, that Ancestry "are genuinely considering the best way to deliver this data to us". However, Ancestry are also taking into consideration the feedback from other customers and it appears that allowing customers access to their raw genetic data is not currently a priority.

Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, the other two companies that offer autosomal DNA tests for genetic genealogists, both allow their customers to download their DNA data files from their personal accounts. If Ancestry are intending to introduce such a feature it will inevitably take time to implement the necessary IT infrastructure. In the meantime I decided to contact Ancestry.com about the possibility of obtaining a copy of my autosomal DNA raw data file as it would surely be a simple matter for them to e-mail this file to me. I contacted Ancestry through their
CustomerServices Department. They replied very promptly apologising for the "frustration" regarding my raw DNA data. I was told that the "DNA project is still very new and in the beta testing stage. Our developers are currently in discussions regarding adding a feature that will allow members to download their DNA data." In the meantime Ancestry are encouraging members to send them feedback by clicking on the "Beta Send Feedback" button that appears in the top right corner of your DNA page. They advised me that their "developers are going through this feedback and basing a lot of their decisions on what we are hearing from our members".

However, Ancestry did not reply to my question about receiving my genetic data so I replied asking once more if they could send me my file. They again replied very promptly but I was told "Currently we are unable to send you a file with your raw DNA data. We apologize for any frustration this issue may have caused and appreciate your feedback. We have forwarded your message on to our feedback department." I was also given a telephone number in the US that I could ring, but as I am in the UK a transatlantic telephone call is not a realistic proposition. Ancestry do have a UK telephone number but as their DNA test is not being actively marketed in the UK, I do not imagine that I will be able to get any answers from them.

I can appreciate that logistically it might be difficult for Ancestry's customer services reps to arrange for customers to receive data files as the files are probably held elsewhere. It is, however, very disappointing that they are unable to fulfil their promise and I hope the issue will be addressed as soon as possible. I cannot recommend anyone testing at AncestryDNA for the present unless and until this problem is fixed.

As AncestryDNA clearly do not think that allowing customers access to their own genetic data is a top priority I would urge everyone who has tested with them to submit feedback requesting access to their personal raw data files. Ancestry do not appear to be replying to comments that are submitted through the Feedback button. A question I submitted last week asking for information about the British reference populations used for their admixture predictions has not been answered. I would therefore suggest that, in addition to submitting feedback, everyone also writes to
Customer Services asking for a copy of their raw genetic data file. If enough requests are received then perhaps Ancestry might consider implementing this basic and essential feature.

A DNA project administrator in the US who is on the
ISOGG project adminsmailing list has advised that he has received good support when talking to Ancestry on the phone. If anyone in the US is able to ring Ancestry I would be very interested to hear what they have to say about this issue.

© 2012 Debbie Kennett

 AND, besides Debbie's blog, please read Roberta J. Estes' blog DNA Explain for her post entitled:  Is History Repeating Itself at Ancestry?  Roberta's blog is very much to the point referring to quesitonable ethics, and the issues with Sorenson, GeneTree, Relative Geneics and Ancestry (who still doesn't do SNP testing).  She hits all the points that are troubling those of us in the Genetic Genealogy world.  She writes about how Ancestry boldly lied to the blogger who discovered an adoption-sibling error, and how they failed to tell testers that they must have a subscription to Ancestry to see their matches in the future.  There is so much more.
Roberta's blog is a MUST READ!
Since Ancestry is still not doing SNP testing, it appears they never learned from their first attempt at playing in the gene pool.  Well, there is the shallow end for the babies who haven't learned to swim, and from Ancestry's past history, they may never get to play with the big boys if quality is involved!
As genealogists you want to do quality reesarch, and you want the same quality in DNA testing. 
Choose wisely!
30 Aug 2012


TC said...

Since Ancestry is still not doing SNP testing, it appears they never learned from their first attempt at playing in the gene pool. Well, there is the shallow end for the babies who haven't learned to swim, and from Ancestry's past history, they may never get to play with the big boys if quality is involved!

- regarding your above comment, I am confused as to why you say that Ancestry does not use SNPs in their genetic testing? they use the same 700k that Sorenson and the other companies use.

www.thegeneticgenealogist.com - she describes it very well, as well as her results with ALL the companies.

So far as getting the raw data, well it will come, Ancestry has made that clear, they will give it out - when that date is yet, they have not told anyone, but they have promised to do so.

Genealem said...

Yes, TC, Ancestry is still not doing SNP testing. They do use SNP testing for their autosomal test as they are using the same chip as all the other DTCs use, although they have never stated publicly what chip they are using. Yes, the raw data is said to come sometime in 2013. It's a shame they can't observe what is happening in the genetic genealogy world and get their format together before they launch. Frankly, they decided to do that or at least share a date after many people at ISOGG hounded them. They also have not shared what they are using for the population percentages. Genetic genealogists are also hounding them about this. Now, both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA have or will be adding phasing so Ancestry is so very far behind the times. What is scary to the genetic genealogy world is that they never learned their lessons from testing for Y and mtDNA. Because they never did and still do not SNP test, they ahve mislabeled haplogroups. I know of several cases. I even know a person who had to explain to the customer service reps what a Haplogroup was. SO VERY SCARY. They are truly giving genetic genealogy a bad name. This is not just my opinion at all.