Fact Check: About That Claim 23andMe Sold Genetic Data to Chinese Government

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Genetic testing company 23andMe sold users' data to the Chinese government.


Rating: Originated as Satire
Rating: Originated as Satire

In May 2024, a rumor spread that genetic testing company 23andMe – which provides information on ancestry and health variants with the use of a sample of saliva – sold users' data to the Chinese government. The claim could be found on various social media platforms, including Facebook and X.

The claim that 23andMe sold users' data to the Chinese government largely spread via a screenshot of an article featured on Medium, an online publishing platform.

The Medium article [archived here], published by author Matt Ryan Allen on Feb. 21, 2024, began:

23 & Me Sells All DNA Assets To Chinese Government in 10 Billion Dollar Deal

Salt Lake City, UT — In a groundbreaking move that has sent shockwaves through the biotech industry, 23 & Me, the leading personal genomics and biotechnology company, has officially announced the sale of its entire DNA database to the Chinese government for an astonishing 10 billion dollars. This deal, hailed as "a monumental leap in international genetic research collaboration" by some and "the plot of a dystopian sci-fi movie" by others, marks the first time a government has purchased direct access to the genetic information of millions of individuals.

However, the article was entirely fabricated and had no basis in reality. If readers had scrolled to the bottom of the post (sometimes it is not possible to scroll to the bottom of the article without a Medium membership), they would have found this disclaimer:

Disclaimer: This article is a work of parody and for entertainment purposes only. No such sale or agreement has been made between 23 & Me and any government. Please read with a sense of humor and a grain of salt.

There were also several indications throughout the article of its satirical nature. The company's actual title is 23andMe, not 23 & Me. The article also said that Gene Hackmore was the CEO of 23andMe, but the actual CEO, as of this writing, is 23andMe Co-Founder Anne Wojcicki.

There is no evidence that such a transaction occurred between 23andMe and the Chinese government, as of this writing. However, shortly after the publishing of the article on Medium, an article [archived here] in the Washington Post detailed a new Biden order that would "stem flow of Americans' sensitive data to China," including genetic data. The article said:

The most sensitive categories include people's DNA and biometric data, as well as computer keyboard use patterns. The intent is not, for instance, to prevent an American from sending DNA to the genomics company 23andMe to see if she has distant relatives in China, though the firm would be barred from selling data in bulk to China or from working with a Chinese processing firm, they said.

U.S. officials have noted that BGI Group, a Chinese company with a U.S. subsidiary, operates the China National GeneBank, a vast government-owned repository that now includes genetic data drawn from millions of people around the world. Intelligence officials say they believe Chinese companies are trying to acquire DNA from Americans.

A lawsuit filed in January 2024 against 23andMe concerning a security breach that targeted Jewish and Chinese customers received wide news coverage, including from The New York Times, Reuters, and CBS.

On the 23andMe website, the company's privacy policy specifies that it "will not share your genetic data with employers, insurance companies, public databases or 3rd party marketers without your explicit consent."



Allen, Matt Ryan. '23 & Me Sells All DNA Assets To Chinese Government in 10 Billion Dollar Deal'. Medium, 21 Feb. 2024, https://medium.com/@matt.ryanallen/23-me-sells-all-dna-assets-to-chinese-government-in-10-billion-dollar-deal-030db9e4e1e8.

Anne Wojcicki - 23andMe | LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/annewojcicki. Accessed 16 May 2024.

Bloomberg - Are You a Robot? https://www.bloomberg.com/tosv2.html?vid=&uuid=a6126c3e-13d9-11ef-b500-f0626e042496&url=L25ld3MvYXJ0aWNsZXMvMjAyNC0wMi0wNy9iaWRlbi1wb2lzZWQtdG8tcmVzdHJpY3QtYW1lcmljYW5zLXBlcnNvbmFsLWRhdGEtZ29pbmctdG8tY2hpbmE=. Accessed 16 May 2024.

Carballo, Rebecca, et al. '23andMe Breach Targeted Jewish and Chinese Customers, Lawsuit Says'. The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2024. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/26/business/23andme-hack-data.html.

Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/pamela.elam.7/posts/pfbid0Dxcb49oxasm2VhWWgu9En7D6hMoVwftE9ZVRam1S9Y9fdEEyKd5rqRKtfZVWkirkl. Accessed 16 May 2024.

'Https://Twitter.Com/CAMELCASTOff/Status/1790434849771196471'X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/CAMELCASTOff/status/1790434849771196471. Accessed 16 May 2024.

'Https://Twitter.Com/Rothmus/Status/1790408907828957254'X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/Rothmus/status/1790408907828957254. Accessed 16 May 2024.

Nakashima, Ellen, and Drew Harwell. 'New Biden Order Would Stem Flow of Americans' Sensitive Data to China'. Washington Post, 26 Feb. 2024. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2024/02/26/biden-sensitive-data-china-ban/.

Satter, Raphael, and Raphael Satter. 'Hackers Advertise Sale of 23andMe Data on Leaked Data Forum'. Reuters, 6 Oct. 2023. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/technology/hackers-advertise-sale-23andme-data-leaked-data-forum-2023-10-06/.

TikTok - Make Your Day. https://www.tiktok.com/discover/23-and-me-sold-to-china. Accessed 16 May 2024.

'US Senator Asks 23andMe for Details after Reported Data for Sale Online'. Reuters, 20 Oct. 2023. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-senator-asks-23andme-details-after-reported-data-sale-online-2023-10-20/.

'23andMe Has Not Sold All DNA Data to China'. Full Fact, 15 May 2024, https://fullfact.org/online/23-and-me-dna-data-china-satire/.

23andMe Hack Let 'Threat Actor' Access Data for Millions of Customers, Company Says - CBS News. 5 Dec. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hackers-accessed-23andme-dna-data-millions-users/.

23andMe. Privacy and Data Protection - 23andMe. https://www.23andme.com/privacy/. Accessed 16 May 2024.