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Sun Feb 3, 2019, 10:09 PM

A letter from Bennett Greenspan, FamilyTreeDNA Founder

Got this tonight in my email so no link. I really have no comment, but given the outrage and comments made on the thread about the FBI using thi FamilyTreeDNA database, I thought this would be of interest.
Dear Customers:

I am writing to address the news that our Gene-by-Gene laboratory, which processes genetic tests for several commercial clients in addition to all of the FamilyTreeDNA tests, has processed a handful of DNA samples for cold cases from the F.B.I. In many cases, the news reports contained false or misleading information.

Let me start with this categorical statement:

LAW ENFORCEMENT DOES NOT HAVE OPEN ACCESS TO THE FTDNA DATABASE.

They cannot search or “dig through” FTDNA profiles any more than an ordinary user can. As with all other genetic genealogy services, law enforcement must provide valid legal process, such as a subpoena or search warrant to receive any information beyond that which any other user can access.

I have been an avid genealogist since I was twelve years old. FamilyTreeDNA is not just a business, it is my passion. I fully understand your privacy concerns on a personal level.

Law enforcement has the ability to test DNA samples from crime scenes and upload the results into databases, like any other customer can, and it appears they have been doing it at other companies for the past year. The distinction is that, according to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, we expect the FBI and law enforcement agencies to let us know when they submit something to our database. We moved to something transparent, rather than having them work in a stealthy way. Other than that, nothing changed that affects the privacy of our customers.

FamilyTreeDNA has always taken your privacy seriously and will continue to do so. We’ve remained steadfast, always, refusing to sell your data to pharmaceutical companies and other third parties.

One of the key reasons law enforcement wanted to submit their samples to us is the same reason many of you have: out of all the major companies, FamilyTreeDNA is the only one that has its own lab, and our customers’ samples never leave our company.

As previously stated, law enforcement can only receive information beyond that which is accessible to the standard user by providing FamilyTreeDNA with valid legal process, such as a subpoena or a search warrant. Again, this is specified in FamilyTreeDNA’s Terms of Service, just as with all other companies.

ABOUT OUR TERMS OF SERVICE

The Terms of Service were changed in May of 2018 to reflect GDPR requirements, and we informed our customers about the update at that time. Those changes included a paragraph that required law enforcement to receive our permission to enter the database and since it was a part of the overall update, notice was sent to every FTDNA customer. Without infringing upon our customers’ privacy, the language in the paragraph referring to law enforcement was updated in December, although nothing changed in the actual handling of such requests. It was an oversight that notice of the revision was not sent to you and that is our mistake. Therefore, we are reverting our TOS to our May 2018 version, and any future changes will be communicated to you in a timely manner.

This is the May 2018, GDPR-compliant version, communicated to you at that time: “You agree to not use the Services for any law enforcement purposes, forensic examinations, criminal investigations, and/or similar purposes without the required legal documentation and written permission from FamilyTreeDNA.”

WE WILL DO A BETTER JOB OF COMMUNICATING WITH YOU.

I am genuinely sorry for not having handled our communications with you as we should have.

We’ve received an incredible amount of support from those of you who believe this is an opportunity for honest, law-abiding citizens to help catch bad guys and bring closure to devastated families. We want you to understand, as many of you already do, that you have the same protections that you’ve always had and that you have nothing to fear.

We’ve also heard from supporters offering ideas and solutions to make the FamilyTreeDNA experience a more comfortable one in light of this new information.

We are listening. Our plan is to create a panel of citizen genealogist advisors who will work with us as we focus on how to make your FamilyTreeDNA experience the best one available.

Sincerely,

Bennett Greenspan
President
FamilyTreeDNA.com

“History Unearthed Daily"

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Arrow 13 replies Author Time Post
Reply A letter from Bennett Greenspan, FamilyTreeDNA Founder (Original post)
csziggy Feb 2019 OP
defacto7 Feb 2019 #1
FreeState Feb 2019 #3
defacto7 Feb 2019 #5
customerserviceguy Feb 2019 #8
csziggy Feb 2019 #12
customerserviceguy Feb 2019 #7
customerserviceguy Feb 2019 #6
defacto7 Feb 2019 #11
customerserviceguy Feb 2019 #13
FreeState Feb 2019 #2
csziggy Feb 2019 #4
customerserviceguy Feb 2019 #9
customerserviceguy Feb 2019 #10

Response to csziggy (Original post)

Sun Feb 3, 2019, 10:24 PM

1. DNA testing is not genealogy.

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Response to defacto7 (Reply #1)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 12:29 AM

3. Yes, but their business model is

They use your DNA for building family trees.

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Response to FreeState (Reply #3)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 07:45 AM

5. Well, I know they do but DNA doesn't work the way they advertise.

It's a mistaken understanding of how DNA works. Too many people are sucked into believing they can trace ancestry through DNA the same way geneology does and it's just not the fact. If you want to know where your ancestry comes from a genealogical study is the only sure way. If you want to know the probability of your background origin you can do DNA. DNA can connect you to specific people, it can tell you about your present condition, it can tell you about your probability of disease, but where people get it wrong is trying to find out their origin or nationality. That is pure probability and is extremely irregular. I can give you many very common examples of ambiguous and utterly strange outcomes but it's too long to write now.

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Response to defacto7 (Reply #5)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 11:19 AM

8. Actually

FTDNA doesn't do a lot of advertising. Ancestry.com is much more into pushing the "find out if you should wear a kilt or lederhosen" thing than any other DNA company.

But, I agree with your points. It may be possible to further refine the algorithms used to determine origin, but that would only work for ancestral places that did not significantly interact with surrounding different ones. That's just not the case with Europe, for the most part.

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Response to defacto7 (Reply #5)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 01:42 PM

12. People are too ignorant of how genealogy works, much less DNA

Too many today believe all you have to do is to put your name onto Ancestry, click a link, and you might find you're related to George Washington or some other famous person.

They don't get that genealogy takes work - inputting what is known, checking the hints you might get, researching original sources, etc. I grew up with my mother researching her family tree. She spent hours interviewing her parents and their siblings, hot afternoons visiting graveyards hunting for grandparents names and dates of their births and death, hours and hours at the courthouse looking for wills and deeds, and more time deciphering the handwriting in old family Bibles. There was no clicking on a leaf to help her back in the 1950s and 60s. She did it the hard way.

My father's mother was lucky - her grandfather corresponded with his cousin in the 1870s about family history so she had a head start but she still spent many hours writing family members, collecting deeds and wills, hunting down family histories, and searching graveyards.

I grew up with that heritage and learned genealogy by helping my Mom transcribe old documents. The only reason I am in FamilyTreeDNA is that one of our male cousins got his DNA tested in the hopes that we would be able to break through one of our brick walls.

Our three times great grandfather moved from South Carolina to Perry County, Alabama in 1834 and no one has been able to locate his parents. FamilyTreeDNA does family group DNA and we hoped that since our cousin was a straight male line descendant we could connect him with one of the branches with that surname. No such luck - we seem to be one of those groups whose parentage has not been determined.

In fact most of the connections we have gotten through the DNA results are of people with other surnames. As one was told our ancestor may have been the result of "an unexplained paternity event." That doesn't help us at all to find his parents!

One of the other people who contacted me is the mother of a young man whose father was a sperm donor. He's a real close match to my cousin, but none of my cousins were in the right state at the right time to be a candidate. I sent her a complete family tree of the descendants of our brick wall man and hope that will help with their quest.

The surprising thing is that both my sister and I show a trace of American Indian ancestry - but our Mom does not. Since the brick wall's wife is reputed (just like Elizabeth Warren's ancestress) to be of American Indian ancestry by some branches of the family, we at first thought it might have come from that side. Since Mom and our cousin do NOT show that trace, it must come from our father's side. That is a much more difficult prospect since that side is very well researched with no hint of American Indian on any of the branches. Whichever side it is from, it was introduced into the family before 1800 so would be almost impossible to document.

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Response to FreeState (Reply #3)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 11:16 AM

7. They don't built family trees

You have to do that yourself. I find their name a misnomer in that a person testing has to do all the work of building a tree and finding a connection to a matching person with resources not available at FTDNA. Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com have access to some of those resources, but for a yearly fee.

All FTDNA does is provide you with a list of people who match part of your DNA. It's up to the user to contact others and find out what the connection is. Some people have attached family trees, but often, those trees are either marked as "private" for recent (even if deceased) ancestors, or have just the user as the sole member of the "tree".

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Response to defacto7 (Reply #1)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 11:11 AM

6. It's not genealogy in the classical sense of the word

but it is necessary to the new science of genetic genealogy, where the paper record is augmented by the study of where a person's DNA segments come from.

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Response to customerserviceguy (Reply #6)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 12:56 PM

11. Understood.

You say, "where a person's DNA segments come from" and that's a point. Not all DNA segments are passed to us or pass from us. That changes the outcome. If it were not so we would be clones. A simplistic example is that one parent can have genes that say 40% German, the other that they have no German but are 50% Italian, then their child's DNA says 60% German, 30% French and 5% Italian. Genes can skip several generations or pile up in unsuspecting places and this is a mild example. Look up chimerism in humans where the DNA says the father is not the father but the uncle. Genealogical records are the only real tell.

I would add that the probabilities are better if you sample multiple generations and as many siblings as possible the more the better; the gene pool would show a broader perspective. If you don't have several siblings or close family members you're out of luck. Individual tests are almost useless because the probability of being a correct reading of your past is low even though the test itself is extremely accurate.

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Response to defacto7 (Reply #11)

Tue Feb 5, 2019, 02:18 AM

13. The bottom line is

you get half of your father's genes and half of your mother's genes. Which half you get is by pure random chance, and that's why siblings (except for identical twins) are not like clones.

And you are quite correct in saying that certainly not all of our genes pass to the next generation, but the more offspring a person has, the greater the chances that the complete genome get passed on to someone in the next generation. My work often involves French-Canadian farmers who had ten to twenty or so children, so the chance that nearly 100% of their genome got passed is pretty high.

Also, the more siblings sampled, the better, you are quite correct on that point.

Still, the combination of DNA testing plus traditional "paper" genealogy gives the best possible answers to who genetic forebears are. For most people, an accurate picture of their pedigree can indeed be produced, and verified by DNA testing.

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Response to csziggy (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 12:28 AM

2. I received the same and it doesn't bother me to honest

Feels about the same as getting a warrant to search my phone or email. If they have a warrant it means there has been judicial oversight.

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Response to FreeState (Reply #2)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 07:15 AM

4. I agree with you

So long as a warrant is needed and as long as we can trust our judicial system it doesn't bother me. If we can't trust the system, then we can be forced to give our information anyway.

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Response to FreeState (Reply #2)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 11:21 AM

9. This is a different sort of thing

If I have your parents' fingerprints, that's not going to lead me straight to you. With DNA, that's a whole different ballgame. The writers of the Fourth Amendment could not possibly have seen this coming.

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Response to csziggy (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2019, 11:35 AM

10. I got

this mealy-mouthed "excuse" yesterday, too.

I was adopted as an infant, and for nearly the last four years, I have been using genetic genealogy to attempt to find my biological family. I depend heavily on the cooperation of others to do this, as I need to build a pedigree chart for a matching person, and then find other matching people on the same segments of DNA to do the same with. Even if I have full cooperation of everybody involved, there is still a chance that there is an undocumented adoption, or an affair that might throw me off the trail. Plus, my genealogical research has to be accurate, on top of that.

What FTDNA is doing is accepting DNA evidence from the FBI, and putting it in the consumer database. When I ask someone for family tree information, how do they know I'm not a cop? Sure, some people would love to dig up the dirt in their family, but a sizable number don't want to work on their Junior Crimestopper badge, and risk having Grandma be pissed at them next Thanksgiving for ratting out Cousin Vinny.

If fewer people test, then I have fewer matches to work with, and it really takes a very close match to find a biological parent, you're not going to do it with a handful of third cousins.

The chilling effect of this use (misuse, in my opinion) of DNA testing extends to members of minority groups who wish to find their own parentage, but if enough people in their ethnic group are scared off because of the law enforcement possibilities, then they don't get their answers, either. A couple of years ago, I worked with a Canadian woman who was also adopted, her father was an African-American touring with a theatre group in Toronto when she was conceived. Her bio-mom put her up for adoption in a neighboring province, and subsequently filed a request to not disclose her identity when that province changed their laws to open up the books.

If FTDNA would clearly mark the profiles as being from crime scene DNA, at least people would have the choice to cooperate with law enforcement or not. And I, being a real human being, and not somebody who's going to put their second cousin behind bars, would gain credibility for my request.

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