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Help us catch killers is now the new advertising angle for DNA companies

A DNA ancestry company criticized for letting police use its gene databases is turning the table on critics. FamilyTreeDNA has now produced a TV advertisement that urges consumers to help them catch criminals. 

The ad: The television spot, to air in San Diego first, asks anyone who has had a direct-to-consumer DNA test from another company, like 23andMe or Ancestry.com, to upload a copy so that law enforcement can spot any connections to DNA found at crime scenes. 

The advertisement features Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, a Salt Lake City teen who was abducted in 2002 but later found alive. “If you are one of the millions of people who have taken a DNA test, your help can provide the missing link,” he says in the spot. 

The debate: FamilyTreeDNA admitted in February that, without telling its users, it had been letting the FBI compare the DNA of unknown criminals with that of more than a million genealogy enthusiats whose genetic profiles are on file. 

Some critics cried foul, saying users hadn’t consented to the searches. But Bennett Greenspan, the firm’s founder, said he had decided he had a moral obligation to help solve old murders and rapes. Now he thinks that customers will agree and make their DNA available specifically to help out. 

“The genealogy community has the ability to crowdsource crime solving,” Greenspan says, according to a press release from the company. He doesn’t mention that all this could boost FamilyTreeDNA’s business, which now includes selling genetic services to authorities.

Since detectives located the Golden State Killer a year ago, the number of cases being solved with genetic genealogy has ballooned, with police solving one or two old mysteries every week. 

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