After the ban on DNA testing for genealogy purposes was maintained in France, Filae and Geneanet, the two main French players in genealogy, seemed to be excluded from this genetic market. So I was surprised to receive an email from Geneanet asking me to participate in the beta-test launch of their genetic platform. The following is an analysis of Geneanet's approach to genetic genealogy.
The French legal approach
The first question to ask Christophe Becker, CEO of Geneanet, is how can a French company embark on genetic genealogy tests that are banned in France?
It's all about the grey areas. Geneanet does not sell genetic tests, nor will it sell them, at least as long as French law prohibits it. The company has decided to offer an additional free service to its users. Those who have already carried out a genetic genealogy test in a foreign laboratory can download their genetic data, called "raw data," in the DNA section of the Geneanet website.
Christophe Becker assures us that, as the team of lawyers consulted by Geneanet have guaranteed, since Geneanet is only offering a service to compare the genetic data of users, on a server located in the European Union, restrictive French legislation cannot apply.
By aggressively targeting the European and French market for 3 years, MyHeritage has changed the game. This foreign start-up sells genetic tests, but above all a semi-annual or annual subscription to their genealogical services, the same genealogical services offered by Filae and Geneanet! The two French companies face a situation of almost unfair competition.
To meet the demand of their users, Geneanet had to offer the same services. It had no choice.
Beta test, a limited genetic genealogy service
This means that the service is being developed. You will therefore be disappointed when comparing it to the results obtained by foreign genetic genealogy laboratories that have been operational and running smoothly for many years.
Geneanet's goal is to deploy the features as you go along. For now, the only ones available are the list of your genetic cousins, with the percentage of DNA shared, and the possible family link.
As Christophe Becker reminds us, it's a new field with new tools, where calculating power to immediately compare all the new profiles added to existing ones is needed to improve results. Jonathan, a bioinformatics engineer previously at the Pasteur Institute, joined them to bring these essential skills.
Their development goals are: improve the crossover of data; provide information about the number of common segments with matches; provide information about the longest segment, haplogroups and of course, geographical origins.
For French people like us, frustrated by the ethnicity results for French regions, this is an eagerly awaited project!
For now, the data is being downloaded gradually, and Christophe Becker has been surprised. The information crossed borders. He thought he would receive the vast majority of raw data from France, and it does account for 50% of the data received, followed by the United States, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. Statistics will vary and change as downloads are made.
Geneanet DNA's strengths
Geneanet wants to highlight its data protection: no use other than for genetic genealogy, no rental or sale of genetic data, nothing but an additional genetic genealogy based free service offered.
Geneanet remind us in their article on the launch of the service: It is a website based in Europe that complies with the RGPD (European data protection regulations). In particular, these regulations prohibit Geneanet from using the data in any other way than that for which the user has consented. As with family trees, you still own your data and can remove it at any time.
It's essential that Geneanet, a French company, indicates this, but it changes almost nothing for us as users. To the extent that we carried out a genetic test in a foreign laboratory, without the guarantees and regulations of French law regarding how this data is used abroad, we have already potentially endangered our genetic data. We would need to have the guarantee that the data from the genetic tests themselves is protected, still prohibited by French law.
The real potential contribution of Geneanet DNA
What genetic genealogist was not disappointed early on, faced with the tantalizing promises of foreign genetic genealogy laboratories to easily reconstruct their family tree through DNA.
With a little saliva, we're supposed to reconstruct our family tree with one click. But in genetic genealogy, everything works by comparison. Comparison of your DNA with that of your genetic cousins, and especially comparison of family trees. Without your genetic cousin's family tree, you can't do anything. Nothing.
And here's one of the biggest pitfalls. The majority of people who have done a genetic test, and potentially have valuable information, have not reconstructed their family tree, do not know their family history, and do not respond to emails (the response rate is estimated to be between 10% and 30% according to the laboratory). A message is sent, to which, in the majority of cases, the genetic cousin will not respond, or will respond two years later (as I can vouch!) to tell you that they know nothing about their family history.
This is the major asset of Geneanet, a network of passionate European genealogists who have reconstructed their direct family trees but also, in many cases, collaterals. A qualitative asset of interest to our European genetic cousins, with whom we share family connections. Thanks to free digitized archives, thanks to the quality of our archives allowing us to easily go back to the 17th century (our administration has its benefits), thanks to all the other documents (cadastres, wills, family monographs, etc.), thanks to this wealth of documents, we can help our European genetic cousins less happy with their own archives.
Geneanet therefore relies on the quality of its online data to distinguish itself from already well-established competitors.
We can access a genetic cousin's tree, and Premium members can use an existing automatic comparison tool for family trees to identify common genetic ancestors.
What about the future?
So I can only recommend the transfer of our genetic data, in order to improve Geneanet's genetic basis. Thus creating a virtuous circle where, thanks to this data, Geneanet will be able to improve its results and refine the techniques and features from which we will benefit. So, while it is undeniably frustrating for us when we compare it to other services offered by its competitors, it is a free service that respects the use of our genetic data.