Wednesday, December 21, 2011

23andMe changes terms for expired PGS subscription customers

As my readers well know, I have long been an outspoken and dedicated advocate of 23andMe. I'm sure that many of you have become customers after reading my posts. I am very disappointed to have to report that today, for the first time, I was hesitant to recommend 23andMe to a person who contacted me for advice on DNA testing.

Apparently, 23andMe changed their terms of service for v3 customers without notice [Update - 23andMe states that the TOS were not changed, only the FAQs.] According to the new FAQ section under Personal Genome Service, customers who allow their subscription to lapse after the original commitment of 12 months will NOT have access to their Relative Finder matches, Health Reports and all other features that "rely on your genetic data". The new section reads:

If you cancel your subscription, you will no longer have access to the items listed below:
  • Access to hundreds of comprehensive reports that interpret your genetic data
  • Continual updates to those reports, based on the latest research discoveries
  • Ability to share and compare results with friends and family
  • Tools to discover new relatives and learn about your ancestry
We retain your raw genetic data within your 23andMe account, allowing you to download it at any time, even after you cancel your subscription.
You may reinstate your subscription at any time in the future.
If you cancel, you will be unable to share and compare results with friends and family.
If you cancel, people whom you are sharing genomes with will be unable to view your results or compare results with you. It will be the equivalent of you not having shared in the first place.
Canceling your subscription means you no longer have access to features that rely on your genetic data. Canceling has no effect on features that do not rely on your genetic data, such as user-to-user messaging, 23andMe Community, Family Health History, Research Surveys or Research Snippets.
We encourage you to continue using these features, even if you decide not to subscribe to the Personal Genome Service.

This is a direct contradiction to what I was told directly by a company representative (with the understanding that I would publish it) back in November 2010. Additionally, the old FAQ were clear that customers would retain access to their existing Relative Finder, but would not receive NEW matches after they let their subscription lapse. I published this info on my blog and this encouraged some of my readers to buy under these terms. From my post of November 24, 2010 (note: the following link is dead), 
"...according to this new FAQ, it should be noted that new customers will no longer receive updates, including new Relative Finder matches, if they cancel their PGS subscription, however they will still have access to any existing reports, matches, features and their raw data."

The Terms of Service under Acceptance of Terms states,
You can accept the TOS by (1) clicking to accept or agree to the TOS, where this option is made available to you by 23andMe for any Service; or by (2) actually using the Services. In this case, you acknowledge and agree that 23andMe will treat your use of the Services as acceptance of the TOS from that point onwards. In addition, when using particular 23andMe Services, you shall be subject to any guidelines or rules applicable to such services that may be posted from time to time...

Apparently, by continuing to use their services, we have all agreed to this change even though we were never made aware of it.

I am hoping that 23andMe will rethink this new position.  As is apparent on their Community Forums, even their staunchest supporters (who have been responsible for thousands of sales as well as spending endless hours hand holding new customers in the absence of good customer support) are rethinking their allegiance to 23andMe. Perhaps, this has all been in reaction to FTDNA's announcement that they will soon be allowing uploads of 23andMe v3 raw data to their Family Finder platform. If so, this action is only serving to alienate those who have shown loyalty and support to 23andMe and would have continued to do so. At least they are still allowing raw data downloads, since migrating to FTDNA and/or will be the best option for those who do not wish to pay a subscription fee for life.

This is terrible news for those of us who have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make the most of the Relative Finder feature. I am very glad that I did not upgrade any of my v2 accounts, but I am concerned about the vast amount of information still waiting to be discovered that will soon be lost with my matches who choose not to renew. This decision on the part of 23andMe is honestly bewildering to me. Let's hope 23andMe soon makes a public statement clarifying their intentions.

[Update - 23andMe is willing to listen to our concerns.  A company rep just posted this in the forums:  Again, we are sorry for our poor communication about the subscription changes. We make mistakes, we're human- it's in our DNA. We want to assure you we are listening and we want to hear more. We've created a space for you to post your specific concerns so that we can be sure that you have a voice as we discuss these changes moving forward- 
This form helps us more efficiently share your input with teams across the company.
I encourage all of my readers to let your voice be heard!]

[[Update - Please sign the new petition addressing this issue:]]


  1. I think they are underestimating the power of a networked community. Recently, when RootsTech decided they didn't want to have "books" at their technology-based conference (way more issues than this comment allows), they had to reverse it within a couple of days. I hope they reconsider this one, too.

  2. Great job CeCe - let's hope someone at 23andMe is finally listening to its core customer base.


  3. The pifalls of a subcription service thanks to

    1. You can’t be half pregnant

    2. You live (and die) by your renewal rate

    3. A twelve month lag on making changes

    4. The long, slow death

    5. Some people just don’t buy on subscription

    6. Red ink on your P&L

    And he is "To be clear, I think a subscription or recurring revenue model is the single best thing you can do to make your business more sellable".

    I myself don't buy on the concept for such rapidly changing technology as DNA sequencing.

  4. Thanks for posting this, CeCe...I guess I wasn't reading close enough to realize all the detrimental changes. It's a shame they had to be underhanded in this matter.

  5. Thanks for this info CeCe.

    When did they stop offering the option of $499 permanent subscription?

  6. I have downloaded my family's genomes and will be using third party tools from now on.

  7. Thanks for the comments. Jackson, I think it was $399 last I checked. I didn't realize it was gone until you mentioned it. Apparently there are all kinds of unwelcome changes over at 23andMe. Let's hope this does not continue.

  8. Yes, it was $399 and this was available quite recently -- I think it was still there on the Black Friday sale!

  9. A Lifetime subscription is still available for $399 when I visit the site. But 23andMe has been courting disaster ever since they changed over to a subscription model. The change in terms of service is almost certainly due to a realization by management that their income projections from subscription renewals was overly optimistic, especially in the midst of a global economic downturn. So, it seems that rather than drop the bad business model, 23andMe has decided to try to tighten the screws. Unfortunately for 23andMe they have already allowed people to take their data with them and a competitor is almost ready to accept the data and provide services for a small one-time conversion fee. 23andMe should be expecting to lose most of their customers who are focused on genetic genealogy, which may make 23andMe much more expensive for those who are focused on genetic health information.

  10. My subscription is up in January so I'm gone to FTDNA which I already have FF, YDNA 67 and MTDNA FGS. 23andme also terminated my forums access and removed my profile information only stating I violated the TOS, never telling what specifically.

    I really think they want all genealogy customers gone as they can focus on the health customers.

  11. Thanks for the report, CeCe. I am passing on this news through the mini-blog on my web site. I've included a link to your blog for more details.

  12. I am disappointed in the changes and am considering a move in my future... which likely will involve multiple people in my family when the migration is over. I would need to see something enticing to stay. Perhaps some recognition of genealogical needs and investment in enhanced sharing and assessment.

  13. "8/10/11 - Family Tree DNA now accepts 3rd party results: Tested with DNAHeritage? Check how to upload here. Tested with Ancestry or Genetree? Check how to upload here." Funny how these things get around

  14. Please let your voices be heard re: the unacceptable new policy:

  15. As this community looks for options... I want to offer that I have the domains and

    I'm wondering if this community can crowdsource the design and management of a co-op based DNA Commons? Is it possible to structure a virtual organization that allows its members one vote per SNP, is designed with total transparency and accountable to its end users in real time?

    I have several projects in this sector -- far more than I can execute. I'm looking for a model that is self-organizing, crowd run and the revenue goes back into the community. Feel free to get a hold of me with a proposal of what you would do any who would run it.

    Sincerely Alice
    Founder of Patent related to Personal Genome Management Services

  16. Is this membership why I was charged twice for the test? I thought I was buying something for less than $100, but my credit card showed the amount I owed twice. I didn't read or listen to get the message regarding the membership. Also hoping it would be shared with FTMfamilyfinder.

  17. Hi Betty,
    You shouldn't have been charged the same amount twice. The subscription only starts after you get your results and then at $9 per month, not a large amount in one charge. You should email to get a refund.
    If you want to share with FTDNA Family Finder testers, you can upload your 23andMe raw data to There are a number of them there to whom you can compare.
    Also, in a few weeks or less, FTDNA will allow 23andMe raw data to be uploaded to their database and you can compare with everyone tested there.
    Good luck!

  18. Please sign Larry Vick's petition, found here: