Saturday, December 31, 2011

Petition urging 23andMe to reconsider their new unpopular subscription policy

Ten days ago I wrote a post about 23andMe's change in policy regarding their customers' access to the genetic-data-based information in their accounts, such as Relative Finder and health reports, after subscription expirations. As expected, this new policy has proven to be extremely unpopular with the genetic genealogy community.  Although I have had some direct communication with senior management at 23andMe, there has, so far, not been any public statement from the company addressing this issue. I am cautiously optimistic that once the holidays are over and things return to normal at 23andMe, there will be a satisfactory outcome to the community's concerns.

In the meantime, the highly respected genetic genealogist and well-known 23andMe customer Larry Vick has created a petition to make sure this issue continues to get the attention it deserves until 23andMe reaches a critical decision about their company's future relationship with the genealogy community. I think we all recognize and appreciate the extremely valuable contributions 23andMe has made to our hobby thus far and very much hope that this issue can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. It saddens me to read on various forums statements such as "No one in the genetic genealogy community recommends 23andMe any longer." (Dec 22, 2011 - The Norway DNA Project Facebook page). As Dr. Ann Turner recently wrote on 23andMe's forums, echoing many of our thoughts, "I hope 23andMe's revolutionary contribution is not forgotten in the midst of this debacle."

If you are concerned about this issue, please sign the petition here.

Let's hope the New Year brings a positive resolution to this unfortunate turn of events for 23andMe and all of us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Adoptee Reunites with Birth Family at 23andMe

For a little over a month, many of us have been following the story of an adoptee who tested at 23andMe on a whim and amazingly found a 27.3% DNA match in their database. Today, finally, there is a happy resolution.

Dan had always planned on finding out more about his birth family, but had not taken any steps in that direction until one day a few months ago when he saw a GroupOn offering a discounted 23andMe test. He ordered the test and waited for his results. Initially, he didn't fully investigate his Relative Finder list. When he did so in mid-November, he received quite a surprise. He had a 27.3% female match with the same mtDNA. This meant that his maternal aunt or half-sister (or, less likely, niece from a full sister) had already been tested at 23andMe.

Here is Dan's own summary of his discovery:

 I decided to have my DNA tested on a whim one day as the result of-of all things-a Groupon deal! I had always known that eventually I would seek out my birth family, and the timing was right. To make a long story short, a few months after my results came back, I finally clicked on the "Show Close Relatives" button, and lo and behold, a major match showed up. 27.3% on the maternal side. The good folks here in the community helped me figure out that it would have to be either my bio-Mom's sister, or my half-sister. Stunning news, to say the least.

He immediately sent an invitation to connect to his relative and then turned to the 23andMe Community for confirmation of what he thought he had found. He received an outpouring of support, advice and very interested followers, including me. Throughout this long month, we have all hoped that Dan would receive a response from his match. Personally, I checked almost every day on his progress. With the days drawing on, many theories were developed and ideas for alternate avenues of searching explored, but in the end the DNA test was the answer.

Yesterday, Dan's half-sister logged into 23andMe and received his note. I am so happy to report that she and his five other half-siblings are ready to welcome him with open arms. I have to say that they are lucky to have found a brother such as Dan has proven to be throughout the waiting. From his postings in the 23andMe community forum, he has shown himself to be a caring, thoughtful and well-balanced individual with a lot to offer his new-found family. Obviously, his adoptive parents deserve credit for doing an outstanding job. Kindly, his "new" sister even posted to the very extensive thread concerning Dan's discovery and introduced herself to all of us interested 23andMers. This resulted in many tears of joy from Dan's supporters.

This story is one of hope and encouragement for all adoptees still searching for their biological families. It is also a testament to the power of DNA testing. As the DNA databases grow, I am confident that this type of story will become commonplace. I am, and have been for sometime, committed to helping adoptees utilize their DNA results to learn more about their ancestry, especially in light of the unjust laws on the books of so many states blocking adoptees from their inherent right to know who they are and from where they come. Let's hope this story inspires more adoptees and birth families to DNA test, especially those who have exhausted the traditional avenues of self-discovery and have lost hope.

I hope to post more on this story as it develops and would like to extend my best wishes and congratulations to all parties involved. Dan and his "new" family have received the best Christmas present imaginable. Happy Holidays to all!

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:]]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

23andMe Holiday Discount

Since my readers depend on me to alert them to all 23andMe sales, I am announcing the new holiday discount for 23andMe kits. Currently, and until 12/31, with the code TPHG6P a kit will cost $76 up front and $9/per month (min. 12 months). This is a $23 discount. Go here to order. [If you see a $10 discount. Enter the code and it changes to $23.]

While the holiday sale is not offering as deep a discount as many of us were hoping, once again, a 23andMe kit still is an excellent gift idea for a family member. Hopefully, many of you will agree and we can all look forward to many new matches after the holiday season!