Anonymous Genetic Testing

My paranoia level on this project is about a seven out of ten, where one on the scale would be a trusting grandma and ten is well-informed tinhat.

Lately I have been wanting one of the genetic testing startups to process my spit, to confirm my profound, stunning whiteness. Though regardless of how many data sharing agreements and EULAs they sign, I do not trust any entity with my genetic details, government or private. An old friend who works in human genetics briefly tried to mellow my concerns, but after a cocktail-or-two revised his stance with “yeah, I guess they could do nasty things with your insurance premiums.” So I set out to get a genetic test done anonymously. This is far from easy, but very doable.

First start with the basics: Confirm the price of the test, including any tax or shipping of the spit-kit back & forth. Recently the 23andMe ancestry test was about $100, to which you might add $35 for extras. Go pull this money out of an ATM in cash. Then stop by your neighborhood pharmacy and buy a debit gift card. Just stating the obvious, but do not buy the gift card with a personal credit card, since you want no digital connection between your actual identity and the payment.

Next find a public computer where you can browse the Internet. It has gotten more difficult to find traditional Internet cafes in big cities, since public wifi is everywhere… Dressing well and asking to use a fancy hotel’s business center is pretty easy. Do not use your computer at work or your machine at home. Not even with your browser in porn mode, nor using the awesome Brave project. A Tor setup might work, or a burner phone with a decent mobile browser. Though make sure you buy that burner phone with cash.

On your public computer, create a throwaway email account. Nowadays, Yandex is your best choice without requiring an SMS validation code. Obviously you want to use invented contact information on the email account.

Sign up for the genetic testing service with the new email account, and pay for the spit-kit with your gift card.

Next is the most delicate part of this whole process: You will need a mailing address to receive the package, but an address not tied directly to your identity. Maybe a doorman building, a large office where you know the people in the mail room, or the like. Find a mailing address shared by a bunch of people, and use this address “care of,” to ship the spit-kit.

If you want to spend any remaining credit on your gift card, make sure to drain exactly the remaining balance and do any top-up with cash. Do not top-up a gift card transaction with your personal credit or debit card.

Now after the package arrives, you may need to associate the kit with your particular genetic testing account. This typically means entering a barcode number into their website. Make sure to use that public computer (again) for doing this association. I believe genetic testing company fulfillment services do not automatically associate spit-kits, to leave the startup the option of quickly handing out a zillion kits, as conference swag.

Spit in your kit, and drop the package in a public mailbox.

In a month or two, your results should be ready. Stop by a public computer for a third time to download the reports and print them. Maybe scan those PDFs at home, and pitch the burner phone. Viola: Very nearly fully anonymous genetic testing!

Breaking this anonymity would probably require security video analysis, or a very compromised public computer. At that point, all bets are off since you are at the level of a three letter agency, and you have bigger concerns than which part of Europe your ancestors crawled on first.

6 thoughts on “Anonymous Genetic Testing”

  1. Well-described approach, however, even with all the “processing anonymity” you still would have significant exposure to *comparison* with other DNA samples. Anyone related to you may have already provided their ID information which will make associating it with your DNA sample not that difficult. best regards.

  2. Good read Ben! Personally, I wholeheartedly agree with the need for anonymity in regards to your genetic data. While such a convoluted approach was indeed necessary previously, such is no longer the case; Please have a look at the submitted link for the details and documentation. 🙂

  3. I might also suggest carrying the burner phone in a Faraday bag or at least a box you lined with tinfoil until you are in place to use it. And, try to use WifI and/or cellular data only somewhere far from home or work or other ground you frequent. Don’t even charge it at home, outside of the box/bag.

  4. Ah, this is like that forbidden fruit of knowledge in the garden of Eden. If anyone related to you have shared their info by DNA test, it won’t be difficult to ID you too.
    so, even seemingly anonymous test is actually a hassle.
    will you bite the apple out of curiosity and pay the price?
    up to everyone to decide for themselves.
    but then again, if there are mandatory DNA databases for criminal offenders, like fingerprinting in the past, which is now mandatory for anyone getting a passport or other form of government issued ID, even we’re not criminals,
    perhaps some day they want everyone’s DNA? i do not consent to that.

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