Alaska class action lawsuit says Family Tree DNA posted info on public websites

By Kyla Asbury | May 16, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (Legal Newsline) - A class action lawsuit has been filed against Family Tree DNA after customers claimed their privacy was violated.

Customers claimed their genetic test results were posted on public websites in violation of state law.

Family Tree sold DNA testing kits to consumers, who, after using the kits, returned them to Family Tree for the company to perform an analysis, according to a complaint filed May 13 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska.

Michael Cole claims after Family Tree analyzes the DNA sample, customers can visit a website to conduct ancestry research based on the test results.

Cole claims unbeknownst to and without the consent of its customers, Family Tree also published the results of the genetic tests on its publicly available websites.

Family Tree's practice of releasing information about its consumers' genetic makeup without their permission, carries serious and irreversible privacy risks and violates Alaska's Genetic Privacy Act, according to the suit.

Cole claims he bought a DNA testing kit in 2013 in order to learn more about his family history and only expected to receive the results for his own use.

However, contrary to the requirements of Alaska's Genetic Privacy Act, Family Tree allegedly published the results not just on its own website but on a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, according to the suit.

Cole claims there are several exceptions to this rule, including determining paternity, but the class action lawsuit alleges that Family Tree does not meet of those standards and as such should require "informed and written consent."

Instead, the website allegedly asks whether or not a user wants to join a project that will help them establish their family history, according to the suit.

Cole claims in violation of Alaska's Genetic Privacy Act, Family Tree allows users to access these records of DNA testing without the consent of users.

Family Tree also allegedly provides the same information to at least one other website, according to the suit, which Cole contends he had no idea this would happen when he agreed to purchase a Family Tree DNA testing kit.

Cole claims had he known that Family Tree would disclose his full test results, he would not have purchased a DNA test from the company or he would have only done so in exchange for a discount from the price paid.

Cole is seeking compensatory damages in the amount of $5,000, or, if the court finds that Family Tree's violation of the Genetic Privacy Act resulted in profit or monetary gain, $100,000. He is being represented by Douglas Mertz of Mertz Law and Jay Edelson, Rafey S. Balabanian, Benjamin H. Richman, J. Dominick Larry and David I. Mindell of Edelson PC.

The case has been assigned to District Judge Sharon L. Gleason.

U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska case number: 1:14-cv-00004

From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at classactions@legalnewsline.com.

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