Redeeming the Genetic Groupon: Efficacy, Ethics, and Exploitation in Marketing DNA to the Masses

77 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2012 Last revised: 30 Jul 2013

See all articles by Jessica Gabel Cino

Jessica Gabel Cino

Georgia State University - College of Law

Date Written: March 28, 2012


From mild curiosities to very sober considerations, more Americans have taken steps to crack open their genetic codes and obtain information on everything from global origins to drug interactions to inherited illness mutations. The idiosyncrasies and unique characteristics revealed by these tests lend more validation to the notion that we are more than just another brick in the wall.

The availability of direct-to-consumer genetic testing has skyrocketed in comparison to its non-existence only a decade ago. No longer in its infancy stages, these commercially available genetic tests offer a wide range of services to consumers beyond diseases prediction, including intelligence measurements, compatible mate matching, and “DNA Tribe” identification, a growing number of individuals send the DNA samples to these companies with little understanding of the scope of their consent or whether they maintain any rights or interest in their DNA. Moreover, the accuracy and reliability of such services largely remains untested.

My article argues that genetic profiteering runs the risk of generating genetic misinformation. As the industry currently stands, Genetic Groupons overpromise and underdeliver. In this article, I discuss the ethical implications of marketing DNA to the masses and the need for balanced regulatory oversight. First, I follow the evolution of genetic services, from the educational and medical mainstays to the current regulatory scheme that applies to them. Second, the article considers the predictive and predatory capabilities of “DIY DNA,” where customers collect and mail in their own DNA swabs for various services. In the final section, I discuss the regulatory scheme that must be considered with Genetic Groupons. Although currently untouched by the FDA and ignored by the FTC, there is room for regulation that encourages innovation, protects privacy, delivers scientifically defensible results, and, of course, allows for profit.

Keywords: DNA, genetics, genetic testing, testing kits, FDA, FTC, drug, privacy, direct-to-consumer genetic testing

JEL Classification: K19, K32, K39

Suggested Citation

Cino, Jessica Gabel, Redeeming the Genetic Groupon: Efficacy, Ethics, and Exploitation in Marketing DNA to the Masses (March 28, 2012). Mississippi Law Journal, Vol. 81, No. 3, 2012, Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-14, Available at SSRN:

Jessica Gabel Cino (Contact Author)

Georgia State University - College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States

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