DNA Testing Company Appeals to True Crime Fans in Latest Ad Campaign

FamilyTreeDNA defend its deal with the FBI saying sharing data could solve crimes.
Jessica Miley

A popular family tree DNA testing company has been sharing the genetic information of its clients with the FBI. Two months ago BuzzFeed revealed FamilyTreeDNA was sharing their databases with the FBI.


The company says its customers can now ‘opt-out’ of the deal if they want. 

“Users now have the ability to opt out of matching with DNA relatives whose accounts are flagged as being created to identify the remains of a deceased individual or a perpetrator of a homicide or sexual assault,” the company said in a statement at the time.

FBI deal could save lives

However, the company defends its actions saying the FBI’s access to the genetic material may be helping to solve serious crimes. Last April police revealed that genealogy website information was instrumental in determining the identity of the Golden State Killer. 

FamilyTreeDNA now seems to be leveraging off this fact, and the current popularity of true crime to gain more business with a new advertising campaign called “Families Want Answers” launching this week.

The new ad will feature the father of Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted in 2002 and held captive for nine months before being rescued. 

In the advertisement that will be screening San Francisco this week, Ed Smart asks people to consider sharing their DNA with the FBI to help families who have had children abducted. 

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“When a loved one is a victim of a violent crime, families want answers,” he says as the ad shows footage of a child’s shoe on a playground, crime scene tape, and parents embracing.

New ad appeals to true crime fans

“There is more DNA available at crime scenes than any other evidence. If you are one of the millions of people who have taken a DNA test your help can provide the missing link.” 

In a public statement about the campaign, FamilyTreeDNA president and founder, Bennett Greenspan, seems to try to tap into the true crime mania.

“The genealogy community has the ability to crowdsource crime solving,” Greenspan said. “If FamilyTreeDNA can help prevent violent crimes, save lives, or bring closure to families, then we feel the company has a moral responsibility to do so.”

The statement goes on to explain that law enforcement can only access the data through a “valid legal process such as a subpoena or a search warrant.” 

The Golden State Killer is the nickname given to a serial rapist and murderer thought to have committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986.

Golden State Killer capture makes headlines

On April 24, 2018, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department arrested 73-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with the crimes. His next court appearance in relation to the crimes in on April 10, 2019. 

The method in which DeAngelo was eventually arrested decades after his first crime has gripped crime enthusiasts around the world. Identification of DeAngelo began when Detective Paul Holes, uploaded the killer's DNA profile from a Ventura County rape kit[154][155] to the personal genomics website GEDmatch.

This revealed about 20 relatives of the killer. A genealogist and detectives constructed a family tree that narrowed down their search to two possible suspects. A surreptitiously collected DNA sample from DeAngelo was used to correlate the evidence.

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