Thursday, December 05, 2013

Good Idea Gone Rotten

President Obama lies to a strand of DNA

It was a personal-robot-moment when I heard DNA tests could be done for as little as $99.00. How cool is that? Remember when the Jetsons promised us hovercars and personal robots, but they never happened? Well cheap genetic testing was a promise like that; but it came true:

Since late 2007, 23andMe has been known for offering cut-rate genetic testing. Spit in a vial, send it in, and the company will look at thousands of regions in your DNA that are known to vary from human to human—and which are responsible for some of our traits.
Wouldn't it be cool to point at a string of the letters G A T C and say that's why you can smell asparagus in your urine? Well, to me it would be. Also, I supposedly have idiopathic cardiomyopathy but there might be a genetic marker for it that I can point to, thereby making it not idiopathic anymore. (and I'm tired of my cardiologist seeming to hint that I'm an idiot)

But wait. Turns out that the company whose long abandoned mission statement of "don't be evil" might be behind 23andMe:

Consider the case of Google. (One of the founders of 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki, is presently married to Sergei Brin, the founder of Google.) When it first launched, Google billed itself as a faithful servant of the consumer, a company devoted only to building the best tool to help us satisfy our cravings for information on the web. And Google’s search engine did just that. But as we now know, the fundamental purpose of the company wasn’t to help us search, but to hoard information. Every search query entered into its computers is stored indefinitely. Joined with information gleaned from cookies that Google plants in our browsers, along with personally identifiable data that dribbles from our computer hardware and from our networks, and with the amazing volumes of information that we always seem willing to share with perfect strangers—even corporate ones—that data store has become Google’s real asset. By parceling out that information to help advertisers target you, with or without your consent, Google makes more than $10 billion every quarter.

What the search engine is to Google, the Personal Genome Service is to 23andMe. The company is not exactly hiding its ambitions. “The long game here is not to make money selling kits, although the kits are essential to get the base level data,” Patrick Chung, a 23andMe board member, told FastCompany last month. “Once you have the data, [the company] does actually become the Google of personalized health care.”
 Read the article. It really is a let down when you realize that the same guys who stole your wifi information are interested in getting the blueprints to your very being.

It's like the first microwave oven has been invented but there's only one catch: You have to buy it from Hitler. What a letdown.

I wonder though if there might be a way around Big Brother. Would it be possible to pay with bitcoins, use a pseudonym, and have results sent to a single-purpose throwaway mailbox hosted by Microsoft? (that you only accessed by way of coffee shop wifi) It's a thought.

My fake surname would be Wojcicki but it may take me awhile to pick a first name. Maybe Thaddeus, Flash, Marvelous, or Dweezil. (good news, the price will probably drop 50% before I decide)

Anyway, read before you buy.