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23andMe Pros and Cons: Is it Worth it?

Written by Michael Principato, BPHE (Bachelor of Physical and Health Education) | Last updated:

Introduction

Headquartered in San Francisco, 23andMe has been operating since 2006. The company was founded by Anne Wojcicki, Linda Avey, and Paul Cusenza. 23andMe has secured over $850 million in funding since its inception.

23andMe offers a variety of services, including ancestry, health, and trait analysis based on samples provided by customers using their at-home DNA testing kits. This review will investigate the pros and cons of the company, and whether there are better alternatives to consider.

23andMe Pros and Cons: Pros

Analysis for Ancestry and Health

Many companies that test and analyze DNA usually only give insights based on ancestry or health exclusively. 23andMe offers both ancestry and health information to their customers. 23andMe’s most expensive offering, the 23andMe + Membership, gives users the ability to understand more about their genes, traits, and health and wellness.

Large Database

23andMe boasts a very large database, making it easier for customers to find relatives and people they could have potential genetic relationships to. There are some downsides to this database in terms of privacy, which will be explained more in the Cons section of this review.

User Friendly Reports and Interface

Navigation on 23andMe’s website and reports are intuitive and easy to understand. Reports are full of visualizations and are well organized. The user interface is clean and designed with care.

Empowering Medical Research

23andMe users can consent to have their DNA data used for medical research, potentially contributing to breakthroughs in curing genetic diseases or other medical conditions. While this is a positive aspect of sharing genetic data, one could have concerns about other partners that 23andMe shares customer data with.

23&Me Pros and Cons: Cons

Data Privacy Concerns Regardless of Consent Status

Many customers and critics could agree that the biggest negative to using 23andMe services is their data privacy policies and sharing genetic information without needing user consent. The company engages in data sharing with multiple third parties, giving away customer genetic data.

Notably, many companies that 23andMe shares the personal information with are pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies seeking to make financial profits.

No Raw Genetic Data Uploading

A convenient and cost effective option that many top genetic testing companies offer is a free genetic data uploading service. For example, SelfDecode offers an uploading service to get personalized wellness reports and recommendations based on an existing genetic profile.

23andMe offers no such service. This means potential customers must buy another DNA testing kit, provide a sample, wait for their data to be processed, and finally see the results even though they already have a genetic file. Not only is this an inconvenience for customers eager to see their results, the least expensive testing from 23andMe costs $99.

Lack of Coverage for Health Related Matters

In each of the health conditions evaluated, only 1 or 2 genetic variants are evaluated. 23andMe leaves out many important genetic variants in each of their reports that have been proven to have strong genetic implications for the condition. This could make 23andMe’s computations for genetic likelihood less accurate or informative.

Lack of Personalized Recommendations

While 23andMe informs their users of their genetic risk, they provide little to no guidance on how a user can alleviate the risk. The action plans are not personalized to the individual’s DNA. Instead, general lifestyle tips are included in every report.

For example, 23andMe’s Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Risk report does not offer much guidance to alleviate risk.

Alternatives such as SelfDecode give their users access to a wide variety of wellness reports, including the APOE and COMT reports which assess genetic risk to Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive functioning. These wellness reports include personalized recommendations specifically tailored to your genes, and embed scientific references they are based upon.

Low Customer Review Ratings

Sometimes finding real customer reviews can be an insightful practice for finding the pros and cons of a given service. Here is a summary of 23andMe’s customer reviews on some popular rating sites:

Trustpilot – 1.9 out of 5 stars average rating from 145 customer reviews

Reviewers on TrustPilot are overwhelmingly unsatisfied with 23andMe, with 61% of all ratings being 1 star of 5. Most recent complaints include poor customer service and frustration with results that seem inconsistent or incorrect.

Better Business Bureau – 1.36 out of 5 stars on the Better Business Bureau from 28 customer reviews

The Better Business Bureau features another poor rating for 23andMe,

Read what people are saying about 23andMe on Twitter

Alternatives

After considering the pros and cons of 23andMe, one could consider other options for getting more out of their genetic data. For example, SelfDecode offers health-focused DNA analysis with personalized blog posts, wellness reports and recommendations.

The chart below shows some other alternatives to 23andMe.

Comparisons

 

SelfDecode

Nebula Genomics

23andMe

Dante Labs

Personalized & holistic health recommendations

Yes

No

No

No

Personalized blog posts

Yes

No

No

No

Products

DNA testing, wellness reports, research-based personalized blog posts, health recommendations

WGS, health reporting, traits, ancestry

DNA testing, traits, wellness reports, more accurate ancestry

WGS, health and fitness reporting, genetic health risks

Raw data access

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cost (USD)

$97 – $389

$0 (limited) – $700

$99 – $218

$670

23andMe Pros and Cons Review Summary

23andMe gives customers the opportunity to better understand their heritage and ancestry. They also provide some information about traits and wellness, but they are less personalized than some other companies.

The main positive aspects of 23andMe are that they are one of few companies that offer both ancestry and health information based on genetic data. They also boast a very large genetic database, which makes finding ancestral links much easier for their ancestry service.

23andMe does have some serious drawbacks. Namely, their data privacy policies leave many customers concerned. Their multiple partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and other biotechnology firms are concerning for many users. 23andMe can share any and all genetic information within their genetic database with these partnered companies at any time, regardless of consent status of their users. Additionally, 23andMe does not allow users to upload raw genetic data files, causing both longer wait times and a higher price for customers.

Generally, 23andMe can be considered a good service if you are interested in getting some deep insights on ancestry and are satisfied with the potential drawbacks of other companies having access to your genetic information.

For potential customers more cautious about who they wish to share their personal information with, there are many alternatives, such as SelfDecode that will never share or sell your genetic data to any third party.

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About the Author

Michael Principato

Michael Principato

BPHE (Bachelor of Physical and Health Education)
Michael received his BPHE from the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University

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