Should your DNA data be used to sell products?
Presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article published with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Privately owned companies, such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com, are accumulating massive databases since genetic testing kits first appeared on the market in 2013.
These genetic datasets, more commonly used in healthcare applications, are finding their way into marketing campaigns:
- Spotify has partnered with Ancestry to offer users the ability to upload their data and create playlists matched to their genetic ancestry.
- AirBnB has partnered with 23andMe to offer cultural trips and experiences tailored to one’s genetic heritage.
- Aeromexico ran ads offering a discount matching one’s percentage of “Mexican DNA.”
The possibilities for using genetic information to market products and services seem as infinite as the genetic variation among human beings. But a study from Wharton, titled “Genetic Data: Potential Uses and Misuses in Marketing,” warns marketers to proceed with caution. Serious ethical concerns about autonomy, privacy, discrimination and misinformation abound, and there are few laws that address these concerns.
“People might not realize the amount of information their DNA contains and the potential consequences of leaving their data within the hand of for-profit companies,” postdoctoral researcher and co-author Remi Daviet recently told Knowledge@Wharton.
An individual’s data could be sold to other companies, and relatives who share part of their genome could even be at risk.
The value of genetic data for marketing purposes also depends on its capacity to improve predictions beyond already existing data used to predict personalized messaging and recommendations. Said Dr. Daviet, “While we know that genetic data is informative about virtually every human trait and behavior, we don’t know in which sectors, for which products, and by how much it is informative beyond existing data.”
Wharton marketing professor and co-author Gideon Nave added that consumers may overly trust their genetic data when environmental factors may play a much larger role.
Dr. Nave said, “Over the past years we have witnessed the emergence of startups that allegedly tailor wine recommendations or help people find romantic partners based on their genetic markup. These applications are not based on solid science, and we are concerned that the average consumer might not realize that.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more risks than potential benefits for retailers and brands in using genetic data for marketing purposes? Will most consumers eventually be receptive to marketers using their genetic data for personalized messages or suggestions?