If Then

Who Owns Your DNA Data?

23andMe’s top privacy officer says you control your information. But there are some caveats.

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On this week’s If Then, Will Oremus and April Glaser discuss Elon Musk’s other, other project with their Slate colleague Henry Grabar. Not space travel, not electric cars, but the Boring Company, which is working on a tunneling project in Los Angeles that would bring a new type of transportation to an area plagued by traffic. Musk announced over the weekend that the first tunnel will be open to the public later this year.


They’ll also dig into never-ending battle to rid Facebook of disinformation—particularly the kind that can disenfranchise, confuse, or stoke hatred in voters. Last Friday, the Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint against a Russian woman accused of running an operation on behalf of the Kremlin-connected Internet Research Agency. The operation had been working to deepen America’s political divisions and muddle its upcoming midterm elections.


April and Will are also joined by Kate Black, global privacy officer and senior counsel at the genetic testing company 23andMe. Sites like 23andMe and Ancestry.com have been in the spotlight lately after Sen. Elizabeth Warren made public the results of her DNA test in a video last week. And earlier this year, when the capture of the Golden State Killer was aided by a genealogy website. The hosts ask Black about who really owns your data, who gets to see it—and what the company will say if law enforcement comes asking for it.


13:45 - Interview with Kate Black

23:53 - Don’t Close My Tabs

Stories discussed on the show:

• Los Angeles Times: “Plans Offer a Peek Into Elon Musk’s Tunnel in Hawthorne, Including an Elevator Hidden in a Garage

• The New York Times: “Fake News Is Poisoning Brazilian Politics. WhatsApp Can Stop It.

• The New York Times: “Most White Americans’ DNA Can Be Identified Through Genealogy Databases

• Slate: “Facebook Will Never Run Out of Moles to Whack

Don’t Close My Tabs:

The Root: “The Wildly Unregulated Practice of Undercover Cops Friending People on Facebook

Wired: “An Alternative History of Silicon Valley Disruption

Podcast production by Max Jacobs.

If Then plugs:

You can get updates about what’s coming up next by following us on Twitter @ifthenpod. You can follow Will @WillOremus and April @Aprilaser. 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.