If Then

When Your DNA Is Public Information

The recent genealogy craze has turned into a boon for law enforcement. But it’s also a giant privacy conundrum.

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About the Show

If Then is a show about technology, society, and power. Each week, the hosts take you on a lively tour of the tech news that actually matters, from fake news in your Facebook feed to the algorithms that want your job to the Uber drivers who want a job with benefits. With news-making interviews of key tech-industry figures, fascinating academics, and top tech journalists, we explore not only how the technology that’s shaping our world works, but the ideas, ideologies, incentives, and biases that underlie it.

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Host

  • Aaron Mak writes about technology for Slate.

Episode Notes

In this episode, Aaron Mak learns about how law enforcement is using public genealogy websites to crack cold cases. His guest is Nila Bala, associate director of criminal justice policy at the R Street Institute, a think tank whose mission is to find solutions to complex policy problems. Bala is also a former public defender. She says that while it’s great that criminals are being brought to justice, there should be more rules in place to limit false positives and prevent privacy violations.

After the interview, Shannon Palus joins the show for this week’s edition of Don’t Close My Tabs.

Stories discussed on the show: 

• “Criminal Suspects Deserve Genetic Privacy, Too” in Slate
• Shannon’s tab: “The App That Has Gen Z Hooked on Thrifting” in the Cut
• Aaron’s tab: Every Spongebob Frame In Order on Facebook

Podcast production by Cameron Drews.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us at ifthen@slate.com.

If Then is presented by Slate and Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State UniversityNew America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our weekly newsletter.