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.
Sign up here to our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech.
Biotechnology and health
Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.
Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.
This baby with a head camera helped teach an AI how kids learn language
A neural network trained on the experiences of a single young child managed to learn one of the core components of language: how to match words to the objects they represent.
The first gene-editing treatment: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024
Sickle-cell disease is the first illness to be beaten by CRISPR, but the new treatment comes with an expected price tag of $2 to $3 million.
We’ve never understood how hunger works. That might be about to change.
Scientists have spent decades trying to unravel the intricate mysteries of the human appetite. Are they on the verge of finally determining how this basic drive functions?
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.