York U workshop explores privacy, science and ethics of ancestral DNA tests

More than 12 million people have bought DNA genealogy tests in a quest to unearth their ancestors, but are they accurate and how safe is people’s bio-data? York University Professor Julia Creet will discuss the privacy implications, ethics and science behind popular genetic DNA tests Friday at York University’s Genealogy and Genetics workshop, which will also be live-streamed.

Julia Creet

“Recent police cases have exposed the privacy risks of DNA and genealogical records and the use of public genealogy databases by police is expected to increase significantly,” said Creet, the workshop’s organizer, professor of English in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and director of the film Data Mining the Deceased: Ancestry and the Business of Family.

Her upcoming book, The Genealogical Sublime, traces the cultural and corporate histories of the world’s longest, largest and most profitable genealogical databases.

“Already, some 25 per cent of Americans have registered for the FamilySearch website, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. With commercial companies selling their databases to third-party marketing and research affiliates, with and without the permission of their customers, privacy becomes a real issue,” said Creet.

The full-day workshop, Genealogy and Genetics: Ethics, social, scientific and privacy implications, will be live-streamed and those interested can register at https://bit.ly/2x56lRc to receive the link.

A screening of Creet’s 56-minute, documentary film will take place at 12:15 p.m., followed by discussion.

Topics covered at the workshop are:

  • Where genealogy meets genetics, by genealogist and Chief Executive of Ancestry Solutions Susan Young
  • The science of genetic genealogy, by evolutionary biologist Hendrik Poinar, a professor of anthropology at McMaster University who specialize in ancient DNA
  • Genetic genealogy and racial identity, by Wendy Roth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, who studies the effect of genetic ancestry testing on test-takers’ identities, attitudes and understanding of race and ethnicity
  • Genetic genealogy and the invention of Indigenous ancestry, by Darryl Leroux, an associate professor of social justice and community studies at Saint Mary’s University who studies the connections between national genomics and genealogy in Quebec
  • Privacy and genetic genealogy, by Kieran O’Doherty, an associate professor of applied social psychology at the University of Guelph whose research includes the social and ethical implications of genetics/genomics
  • The ethics of bio-data and genetic genealogy, by Professor Françoise Baylis, Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University

The event takes place at the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian MacDonald Blvd., North York on York University’s Keele Campus, and runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information about the speakers, visit https://bit.ly/2MHljCV.

About the film
Shot in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Iceland, the film explores the divergent aims of stakeholders. The Mormons (who hold 33 times the number of records than the Library of Congress) are creating a genealogical record back to Adam and Eve, while Ancestry.com builds its medical research arm using genealogy DNA. Steven Pinker, Alondra Nelson and other experts discuss the scientific and social implications. Data Mining the Deceased raises the question: Should we be concerned about our bio-data in the international flow and aggregation of vital information about the living and the dead?