The hidden dangers of Airbnb’s partnership with DNA-testing company 23andMe


A home DNA testing kit from 23andMe

The collaboration aims to provide “heritage” holidays – and gives a free pass to unscientific ideas.

Direct-to-consumer DNA-testing company 23andMe recently announced a new partnership with travel website Airbnb to generate holiday locations based on peoples’ ancestry. Travelling to the idyllic corner of France where your great-grandparents once lived is harmless enough, but giving this information over to a privately held technology company feels like an outtake from Black Mirror.

While methodologies and levels of accuracy can vary wildly across DNA-testing companies, the basic premise remains the same. You send off for a kit, and supply your DNA through a cheek swab or a sample of saliva. The sample is sent to a lab for sequencing, where its genetic information is extracted. This information is relayed to the customer, often displayed in the form of percentages and pie charts.

According to Airbnb, “heritage travel” is a growing industry. Yet partnerships like this make troubling leaps. Ancestry, heritage and genetics have often intersected with bogus ideas about race. Academics have previously raised concerns that commercial DNA-testing may reify the idea that racial differences are biologically founded rather than socially ascribed. The dangerous junk science that grounds race in biological difference has been used historically to establish the superiority of one group of people over another – and is currently finding a renewed audience among far-right groups.

In a press release announcing the new venture, Airbnb and 23andMe used the terms heritage, ancestry and DNA interchangeably. At its best, such over-simplification can fuel misconceptions. At its worst, these ideas play into the hands of far-right activists, whose fixation on racial purity has mutated into an obsession with genetics, aided by easily accessible – and often unreliable – DNA-testing kits.

Moreover, the travel opportunity provided by Airbnb muddies the …read more

Source:: New Statesman

      

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