Citation

“Your Personal Information is Being Requested”: Ancestry Testing, Stunt Coding, and Synthetic DNA

Author:
Browne, Simone
Publication:
Media Fields Journal
Year:
2016

In July 2015, an app posted to the repository hosting service GitHub claimed to use genetic data culled from the ancestry testing company 23andMe to potentially limit a user’s access to particular segments of the Internet. Called Genetic Access Control, this app utilized the “open” nature of 23andMe’s application programming interface (API) to generate a third-party authentication application that the developer promised could restrict access to certain websites “based on traits including sex, ancestry, disease susceptability [sic], and arbitrary characteristics associated with single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in a person’s genotype.”[1] This app would enable websites to request access to a user’s 23andMe profile for verification purposes upon login. Once permission to share the data with this third-party app was approved, the app would then allow or disallow the user access to the site. Or, as the app developer put it in a list of possible uses, the app could create “‘safe spaces’ online where frequently attacked and trolled victim groups can congregate, such as a female-only community” and “[g]roups defined by ethnic background, e.g. Black Panthers or NAACP members.”[2] Posted to GitHub under the username “offensive-computing,” this anonymous developer also suggested that “[e]thnoreligious sects” that “wish to limit membership, e.g. Hasidic Jewish groups restricting access to Ashkenazi or Sephardic maternal haplogroups with the ‘Cohen’ gene” might employ the application.[3] Within days of Genetic Access Control’s appearance on GitHub, 23andMe restricted the app’s access to its APIs. It cited non-compliance with 23andMe’s Terms of Service agreement, which forbids the use of its APIs in applications that promote “hate materials.