Anyone can purchase a batch of profiles from a data broker and immediately have access to the names, contact information, identifying traits, and photos of millions of real individuals. In May 2017, Moll and Tactical Tech purchased one million dating profiles from the data broker website USDate, for around $153.
We project that about 60% of the searches for individuals of European-descent will result in a third cousin or closer match, which can allow their identification using demographic identifiers. We demonstrate that the technique can also identify research participants of a public sequencing project.
As the researchers go on to show in their paper, it is now possible to take DNA from a supposedly anonymous dataset, find matches in public genetic databases, and then work out the identity of the individual by building a family tree.
“Take home message: Your DNA can identify you whether you took or not a DTC test,” Yaniv Erlich, the lead author of the study, said on Twitter.
Already, 60 percent of Americans of Northern European descent — the primary group using the genetic-genealogy sites — can be identified through such databases whether or not they’ve joined one themselves, according to a new study.
GEDmatch, the database investigators used in the Golden State Killer case and subsequent others, does not offer DNA tests itself. To find out exactly how easy it is for genealogists and law enforcement to find genetic matches, Erlich and his team first analyzed MyHeritage’s 1.28 million–person DNA database.
In fact, according to new research led by Erlich, published today in Science, more than 60 percent of Americans with European ancestry can be identified through their DNA using open genetic genealogy databases, regardless of whether they’ve ever sent in a spit kit.