23andMe, the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, has changed its mind about opting users into its program that matches users to relatives, Vox reports.
In a feature last week, Vox recounted the stories of some 23andMe customers who discovered they had close relatives that they didn't know about. One customer found that his father had had a child before he got married, and this, Vox said, contributed to his parents' divorce.
23andMe, Vox had noted, was planning on changing its policy so that new users would automatically opted in to the service and existing customers would be given the option to opt out. "We had many more customers complaining about [relatives not showing up] than discovering someone wasn't related to them," Joanna Mountain, the senior director of research at 23andMe, told Vox then.
But over the weekend, the company announced in a community forum that it had abandoned that idea, and instead would be hiring a chief privacy officer.
"I do not think it was ever the right call to promise that we would automatically opt-in those customers. Core to our philosophy is customer choice and empowerment through data," CEO Anne Wojcicki says in the forum post.
"The Close Relatives features can potentially give a customer life changing information, like the existence of an unknown sibling or the knowledge that a relative is not biologically related to them," she adds. "Customers need to make their own deliberate and informed decision if they want this information."
Wojcicki says that 23andMe will be hiring a chief privacy officer to deal with such issues going forward.