Illustration of DNA strands with a padlock.
Illustration: John Ritter

 Protecting Your Genetic Data

For a modest fee, anyone can buy a direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test kit. You swab the inside of your mouth or spit into a tube to obtain a DNA sample, mail it off, and get an analysis a few weeks later. Marketed as a way to get insights about your health and family origins, the kits are hugely popular: About 1 in 5 Americans has taken a DTC genetic test, according to a nationally representative CR survey conducted in October 2020. Brands such as 23andMe and Ancestry are household names. The kits are even a popular holiday gift.

But DTC kits raise serious privacy and security concerns. The same CR survey found more than half of Americans believe info uncovered is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or other federal laws. They’re wrong: In fact, few rules govern what companies can do with the data, and in most states it can be used without consumer consent. One risk is that insurance companies could price or deny coverage based on one’s DNA—or even that of a blood rel­ative who happened to get tested.

That’s why CR has been working with state legislators to pass laws forbidding the use of a person’s genetic data without their consent, and ensuring that such data is stored securely. In September, California lawmakers passed two such bills, and in October the governor signed them into law. For tips on how to protect yourself, read, “How to Delete Your Data From 23andMe, Ancestry, and Other Sites.”

Fighting for Free Credit Score Access

What’s at stake: Credit scores matter—a lot. Designed to help financial companies decide whether to lend consumers money, and at what interest rates, they can mean the difference between getting an affordable mortgage and being denied. They’re also routinely used by insurance companies to set policy prices and by landlords to screen potential tenants.

Unfortunately, consumers don’t have a legal right to see this crucial information about themselves free of charge—though they do have that right with regard to credit reports, the raw data on which credit scores are based. As a result, many resort to accessing their scores through credit score apps. One such app provider, Credit Karma, claims to have 110 million users, including almost half of all millennials.

How CR has your back: A new CR study, however, has found that credit score apps come with major draw­backs. They barrage users with heavy-handed marketing pitches for other financial products that might not be in the users’ best interest. They collect reams of personal information about users, which they use to market products and services to users. And many of the five apps studied don’t even provide the kind of credit scores that lenders use to make decisions about you.

So CR is asking Congress to give consumers free access to real credit scores, which would eliminate the need for these services.

What you can do: Sign our online petition urging Congress to pass legislation making credit scores free, easily accessible, and secure.

CR Progress Report

In early September, 10 months after the Consumer Product Safety Commission warned the public about the risks of using nursing pillows and loungers for infant sleep, CR’s analysis of government data identified seven recent infant deaths connected to models made by the baby products brand Boppy. We called on the company to take action, and urged the CPSC to do so if the company would not. Then, on Sept. 23, Boppy recalled about 3.3 million of its loungers, which were being sold by Amazon, Pottery Barn, and other retailers.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.