Your ads are great! People who have taken DNA tests through Ancestry.com are discovering stories and family members they never knew. The pieces of the puzzle are miraculously filled in by the company that was founded in 1996 and marketed as a family history website. They hold more than 10,000 terabytes of genetic data, as well as data on births, marriages, immigrations and deaths, so at its core Ancestry is an extremely valuable collection of global DNA and associated metadata.
The company has come a long way since it was founded in 1990 by two Brigham Young University (BYU) graduates, Paul Allen and Dan Taggart, both members of the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS). , better known as the Mormon Church. . The two began compiling church publications into a collection called Infobases. The collection was first sold on CD, but as it grew, they put the collection online in 1996. As technology evolved, the collection digitize and quickly became a gold mine. Within three years, the founders raised $90 million and renamed their collection Ancestry.com as we know it today.
There is a common misconception that the Mormon Church owns Ancestry.com. They don’t, but the founders were heavily influenced by the LDS church and have worked closely with the church on many projects. To this day, LDS members have free access to Ancestry.com.
The LDS church is known for the millions of genealogical records they have collected from around the world. They are kept in the Granite Mountain record vault outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The vault, in the Wasatch range, was built in 1965, contains more than 3.5 billion digitized records and is built to withstand an apocalypse. Most digitized records are available at the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City or can be searched online at Familysearch.org, a non-profit organization operated by the LDS. Suffice it to say that this library is one of the largest genealogical libraries in the world. It may be one of the most comprehensive collections of death records, containing the names of over 8 billion dead people from over 100 countries.
An investment company owns your data
While the FHL library numbers are impressive, Ancestry.com has over 20 billion records to date. Then you could say that Ancestry.com is considered a high-tech company rather than a geneology company. Their own tagline reads, “AncestryDNA gives you so much more than just where you’re from.” And indeed it does. For $99, you get a DNA Activation Kit, and for another $20, you get a list of 35 personal traits you likely have based on your DNA.
And now, that DNA data is in the hands of a gigantic Wall Street investment firm. Few of us have probably asked the question, “Who owns Ancestry.com?” In 2020, Blackstone Group bought a majority stake in Ancestry.com for the impressive amount of $4.7 billion. This is the first commercial deal for Blackstone’s newly formed $26 billion fund, Blackstone Capital Partners VIII. Blackstone paid more than double the $2.6 billion valuation in 2018. That’s a big jump.
Interestingly, in 2016, Silver Lake Partners obtained significant amounts of equity from Ancestry. Silver Lake was started by Glenn Hutchins, who was at Blackstone and later founded Silver Lake Partners. Hutchins had Thomas Lee as a former business partner before parting ways in the 1990s. Lee, a known close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, shocked those who knew him when he committed suicide in February 2023.
But I digress. Between 2016 and 2020, Ancestry.com expanded globally to have offices in Dublin, London, San Francisco, Sydney and Munich. Silver Lake and Blackstone are rivals, and Blackstone bought the company from rival Silver Lake, as well as two other private equity firms. Why did Blackstone pay a record sum for Ancestry? They say data is a good investment and Ancestry has a lot of data. Ancestry.com currently has more than three million paying customers from 30 different countries, generating $1 billion in annual revenue for the company. Blackstone says more and more people are interested in family history, so that’s why they made the investment. In other words, they will recoup a $5 billion investment through subscription fees that work out to a maximum of $50 per month.
But is that really it? Or they will use the Ancestry data for other purposes and sell it to other high bidders. Ancestry.com already uses test kits to provide people with genetic health risk information, and they’re looking into personalized medicine, a unique treatment made just for you based on your DNA. Another thing worth mentioning is that Blackstone lists as a senior advisor a man named Jeffrey Kindler, former chairman and CEO of Pfizer.
Investment firms always have a plan to get money back before making such a purchase, especially one with a price tag of $4.7 billion. As investors, are you interested in this data for other reasons, and if so, what are they?
Why would Blackstone buy a literal treasure trove of genetic data and not use it? This data is very valuable to many people, including insurance companies who may not insure you and employers who may not hire you based on your DNA. Oh, and drug companies LOVE DNA data. Just ask GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant that partnered with Ancestry rival 23andMe in 2018, to buy a slice of the $300 million pie to access the genetic data of 12 million users.
Even before the Glaxo deal, Google bought part of 23AndMe more than a decade ago, in 2007. Perhaps that’s because 23AndMe’s CEO (Anne Wojcicki) married a Google co-founder (Sergey Brin), also in 2007. Then, in 2013, Google announced a hush-hush project called Calico Labs aimed at anti-aging technology. Does it really take a lot of brain power to figure out where Calico gets its DNA information?
It’s absurd, in my opinion, to believe that Blackstone paid nearly $5 billion simply for a digital subscription service. If you donated your DNA to Ancestry.com or another direct-to-consumer genetic product company, hope you read the fine print, because you voluntarily donated your DNA to a company with the sole purpose of making money from that DNA. Because federal medical privacy laws don’t apply to genealogy sites, Blackstone can do whatever it wants.
There’s even more fine print that matters. Despite Ancestry’s big guarantee that they will never sell your DNA data, there is a small provision that says the company reserves the right to use genetic information for “scientific” research. Very vague. Very wide And very lucrative, especially for Blackstone’s other major businesses, which include insurance companies, research labs and big pharma. After all, Blackstone touts its “extensive collaborations with the pharmaceutical, biotech and medtech industries” right on its own website.
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Fed Up Texas Chick is a contributing writer for The Tenpenny Report. She is a rocket scientist turned writer, having worked in the space program for many years. She is an experienced medical writer and researcher who fights for medical freedom for all of us through her work.
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