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Nov 2, 2021

Lawsuit Claims Ancestry.com Violated Illinois Privacy Act

The following was written by the IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) Records Access Alert mailing list:

Genomeweb reported on November 2, 2021 that a class-action lawsuit alleges Ancestry violated the rights of customers under a state genetic privacy law which forbids disclosure of their genetic information to unauthorized third parties without written consent.  To read the Genomeweb report see:

https://www.genomeweb.com/business-news/lawsuit-claims-genetic-testing-company-ancestry-violated-illinois-privacy-act

The posting states, “The suit was filed late last week by an Illinois minor called A.K. through his legal guardian Kelsi Kingsley in the US District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. It alleges that “thousands if not millions” of individuals’ genetic information, including the defendant’s, was illegally disclosed to Blackstone, the multinational private equity company that acquired Ancestry last year for $4.7 billion.”

The lawsuit specifically claims that Ancestry violated the plaintiffs’ rights under the Illinois Genetic Information Privacy Act, or GIPA. Similar to the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA, GIPA became law in Illinois in 2020. It provides that “persons, such as [the] defendant, may not release and/or disclose genetic testing and information derived from genetic testing to anyone other than the individual tested or to persons specifically authorized in writing.”

The lawsuit states, Ancestry’s consumer genomics business “uses DNA collected from its customers’ saliva to provide its customers with information about their heritage as well as genetically related health characteristics.” This resulted in Ancestry.com collecting a “massive database of genetic information” that in part made it an attractive acquisition target for Blackstone.

The lawsuit alleges, that Blackstone acquired all of the accompanying information gathered by Ancestry including personal information that could be used to identify individual plaintiffs, including first and last names, email addresses, and/or home addresses, including age and gender in some instances.

the plaintiff is seeking an injunction requiring Ancestry to comply with GIPA; an award of damages, including statutory damages of $15,000 for each willful and/or reckless violation of GIPA or actual damages, whichever greater; an award of statutory damages of $2,500 for each negligent violation of GIPA or actual damages, whichever greater; as well as costs and attorneys’ fees.

At the time of this posting there was no press release or blog post about this on the Ancestry site. Genomeweb said in their posting they received an emailed statement from an Ancestry spokesperson that  “Ancestry believes this suit is without merit and will vigorously defend against these baseless claims.”

As reported previously, Ancestry announced earlier this year it would discontinue its next-generation sequencing-based consumer genomic offering and health service to focus nearly exclusively on family history and genetic genealogy.

To read the previous postings about Ancestry, DNA, mergers, privacy issues and more go to the archives of the IAJGS Records Access Alert at:  http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/private/records-access-alerts/.

You must be registered to access the archives.  To register go to: http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/listinfo/records-access-alerts and follow the instructions to enter your email address, full name and which genealogical

organization with whom you are affiliated   You will receive an email response that you have to reply to or the subscription will not be finalized.

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee