What you’re giving away with those home DNA tests

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By Maggie Fox

It sounds like such a fun holiday gift idea: a DNA test that can tell your sister-in-law whether she really has Native American ancestors, or one that promises to craft your friend a perfect diet based on his genes.

Home DNA tests are likely a big seller for the next few weeks, but privacy experts say consumers should be cautious. Last year New York Sen. Chuck Schumer asked the Federal Trade Commission to “take a serious look at this relatively new kind of service and ensure that these companies can have clear, fair privacy policies.”

The problem is that when you send away a tube of your spit or a cheek swab, you are giving away your full genetic code. Every cell on that cheek swab carries the full sequence of your DNA, including the mutation pattern that makes it uniquely yours.

“It’s the most valuable thing you own,” says Peter Pitts of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a nonprofit advocacy group.

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