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a scientist handles genetic material with a pipette

Just two years ago, GEDmatch was still an obscure genealogy website, known only to a million or so hobbyist DNA sleuths looking to fill in their family trees. The site was free, public, and run by two guys with a knack for writing algorithms that helped relatives find each other. All in all, it was a pretty controversy-free place.

That all changed in April of 2018, when news broke that police had used GEDmatch to identify a suspect in the 40-year-old Golden State Killer case. As the site emerged as a crime-fighting tool, some users and privacy experts began to worry about how people’s genetic data might ensnare them in criminal investigations, when all they wanted was to learn about their family history. The transition has been rocky for GEDmatch. One drama after another has engulfed the website: Police searches have grown increasingly invasive; the site’s owners tried to react with changes to its terms of service that ended up backfiring; and white-hat hackers pointed out glaring security flaws. But starting Monday, that’s all someone else’s problem.

On Monday... see more