Last night I came across a thread on a languages Facebook group that mentioned DNA tests. The comment section was filled with users expressing both their interest in buying the kits as well as their fear of “selling” their DNA to companies that could, for example, pass the information to governments and insurers. And although some concerns were well-founded, a lot of them had no real basis. I addressed a few of the first, and thought it would be a good idea to share them more broadly, so here are some common misconceptions about DNA tests, an explanation of how their privacy works and a few workarounds for those that still want to take tests in order to do so anonymously

Privacy in DNA Testing: How it Works Today

The business of personal genetic-testing kits is booming, yet there is nothing more private than your personal genetic information. I believe that these businesses’ future depends on maintaining the trust of consumers,  but there currently are no iron-clad legislative protections. 

There are five privacy risks for consumers sharing their DNA with testing companies: Hacking (common to all companies that have information online), sharing of information with researcher partners (but you usually have to opt-in for this, and the companies would be in breach of contract if they shared without your consent), laws not being broad enough (this is still uncharted legislative territory, and consumers have to take the companies at their word), law enforcement having access to your DNA (police can subpoena for your DNA, some companies have said they would contribute, others have been less clear) and the company’s privacy statements changing (not much one can do about companies being sold and changing their terms, but doing so wouldn’t side well with consumers).

Now, these are real concerns that should be taken seriously. But there’s one workaround that might make you feel a little better if you still want to take a test: You don’t need to have your name attached to your DNA.

Buying DNA Tests Anonymously

One of the most common issues mentioned around DNA kits is that they will forever be linked to a name, your name. This is an easy one to answer: Not necessarily! 

You can buy DNA tests anonymously, meaning you don’t need to give a name. And if you do, it doesn’t need to be your complete one. You can use a first name, a set of initials or, in practice, any conjunction of words. 

There are two things you might need to have in order to acquire the tests, although we’ll see how this is not always the case.

Acquiring and Paying for a Test

The first requirement to buy a test is a means of payment. If you buy the DNA test online, this usually means a credit or debit card, but this is not always the case. Here are some ideas on how to get tests without having them attached to your full name.

Possible workarounds

  • Use a family member or friends’ card (with their blessing, of course!) 
  • Buy a gift credit card on Amazon (this is easier to do if you’re in the USA, and assumes you dont have your full name on your account). You can, for example, get a credit card gift card. $100 or $200 cards should be enough for most tests. Link to buy Visa: $100, $200, Mastercard: $100, $200
  • Buy a DNA Kit directly from Amazon. There are a few companies that offer tests through this platform. For example, 23andMe has listings for their Health + Ancestry Kit and Ancestry and Traits Kit. Ancestry also offers their Genetic Ethnicity Test on Amazon too, as well as their Health + Genetic Ethnicity Test. MyHeritage (first choice in Europe) also has its Ancestry & Ethnicity Kit there.
  • Buy kits at a genealogy event. This is how some of my friends got their DNA tests: We bought them in RootsTech London, where each of the main providers had a booth. This also offers another advantage: You can buy the tests directly, meaning you don’t need to provide a delivery address. But let’s also go through that option in case you can’t find an event near you.

Getting your DNA Kit Delivered

The second ‘obstacle’ is getting the actual kit to your hands. As I mentioned, one option is to buy the tests in events or conferences, where you just acquire the box with all the materials in it and only need to send back a sample. If you do need to use an address, you could do one of the following.

Possible workarounds

  • Use a friends’ address (again, with their consent. In some countries, like Germany, the name on the envelope needs to match the one at your door, but this is not the case for most other places – the reason why we all get mail for people that moved out years ago!) 
  • Use your address but a different name. For example, tweak your real name by changing the spelling, shortening it, using nicknames, adding A through Z as a middle initial, etc. Most carriers will attempt to deliver to an address regardless of the name used for that address – Most, not *all*.
  • Send the kit to a delivery point that is “click + collect” registered. In the UK, this service is called Collect+ and doesn’t require a name.
  • Get a PO Box. Some of them don’t require you to give a name, or if you do, you don’t need to provide it to the DNA company.

We’ve gone through some ideas on how to get your DNA information detached from your name. This might be enough for some people who have concerns about privacy but are not terribly worried about their actual DNA code inhabiting the web. If you’re interested in genealogy, the benefits might be significantly higher than the risks. DNA analysis allows you to connect with relatives and fill gaps in your family history. It’s broken a few brick walls for me, after years of being stuck. So, if you’re on the fence, consider the current state of things as well as these workarounds so you can make the best-informed decision. 

And if you want to buy a test and at the same time help us continue writing articles like this, consider clicking on the links below (we get 5% of sales, with no extra cost to you).

Books about Genealogy and Genetics