The Autosomal DNA World Is Changing

Companies such as Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast, that provide online access to historical records have a solid business model – People pay a monthly / annual subscription, which funds the ongoing provision of the service, and also provides funding to acquire additional records, which in turn drives additional subscriptions.

The business model of the autosomal DNA testing companies is not so solid.  When autosomal DNA testing for consumers began, the model worked well – A one time fee is paid for the analysis of your DNA sample, and the company provides ongoing access to a rapidly increasing database of DNA samples.  Over the past few years, the market has begun to saturate, meaning less funding for ongoing services, while the customers want access to additional features.  This business model is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain.

GEDmatch uses the subscription model – limited features at no charge, to increase the database of users, but a monthly subscription is required to access improved tools.  The big benefit of GEDmatch is that you can compare DNA samples from different DNA testing companies.  I deleted all of my DNA samples from GEDmatch a few years ago, after the company violated their own privacy terms at least twice, and the media reported that it was possible to work around users opting out of Law Enforcement access.  Instead I tested at both Ancestry and 23andMe and uploaded my DNA file to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.

23andMe was the first DNA testing company to introduce subscriptions.  You had to re-test on their latest testing chip ($$) and pay a monthly subscription ($$) in order to see additional DNA matches.  In late 2023, 23andMe suffered a data oops (I would not call it a breach), which resulted in them turning off Shared Matches, making the test virtually useless for genealogists.  Class-action lawsuits have been initiated, and I question whether 23andMe will survive.  I certainly would not rush to buy a DNA test from 23andMe until the dust settles.  This oops has caused the other DNA testing companies to introduce additional security to access their databases.

Ancestry DNA has the largest autosomal DNA database and has long resisted providing additional features which they feel could impact users’ privacy, yet they continue to attract the most customers.  Back in 2020, when Ancestry was being prepared for sale, they removed DNA matches below 8 cM, to conserve processing / storage capacity (save $$), and at that time I suggested that instead they should offer additional features for a monthly subscription ($$).  Perhaps they were listening, as recently Ancestry moved access to some of their beta features to be accessible only with a subscription, and I expect that any new features developed will be available only with a subscription.

On January 17th Ancestry updated their Terms and Conditions, and one glaring change is that they talk about the rules regarding “uploaded” DNA samples.  Does this mean that Ancestry is going to accept the upload of DNA samples from other testing companies?  If that is the plan, they will surely attract a lot of customers from the other DNA testing companies, making them even more dominant than they are today, and could quicken the demise of GEDmatch and 23andMe.  I am sure that such an upload will incur a fee ($$) almost as large as the cost of a new DNA test ($69 Cdn in the best sales).

I believe that in 2024 we will see the biggest shake-up in the history of the consumer autosomal DNA testing market, with major announcements likely being made at the RootsTech conference in late February.  Stay tuned!

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