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30 May 2008 / erikduval

Really personal

In our current work, we base snowflake personalization mostly on recommender techniques or matching between metadata that describe you and metadata that describe learning resources, music, etc. We sometimes also factor in context, like where you are.

One of the issues is of course to obtain detailed information about you- 23andme is a new company that takes this a level further by enabling you to have your personal DNA analyzed, so that you can “unlock the secrets of your own DNA”. There are some interesting medical research opportunities there as explained in the video clip from the d6 conference above.

I wonder if this could be the start of really personal services that are literally driven by your DNA, kind of like “other people with a DNA similar to yours also bought…” 😉 In any case, this is VERY fascinating – just think of what we could do if we knew your DNA, where you are, what you’re doing, whom you’re with, what you’re trying to achieve, etc. What cool services could we provide? What new opportunities for learning could we realize? How could we empower you to live the life you want?

Suggestions..? Thoughts..? Would love to hear from YOU!



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  1. Martin / Jun 5 2008 6:11 pm

    Erik, while giving away your DNA in an ideal world might be a good and benficial idea (as you outline) I think that our world, being far away from being perfect, does not justify the trust I would have to give in a company like 23andme. I suspect that the temptation to misuse the data about me (DNA code and conclusions thereof) is just too big to be ignored. And I would hate to see my employer in this world know about all the possible health problems I might have in the future. An example of such misuse has just be published at the ReadWrite web blog ( ), where a scientist (!!) tracked several thousand people’s mobile phone without having their permission.

  2. erikduval / Jun 5 2008 10:57 pm

    I certainly agree that there is a danger for abuse. However, I am not sure that I understand why we could not prevent companies from acting unethically with these data, in the same way as we prevent medical doctors from doing so? Actually, many clinical tests are already performed by commercial companies on behalf of doctors now?

    Even the example you cite is a bit more subtle, IMHO: for instance reports on why it is interesting to know about the patterns that were studied. It is not clear to me that the researchers had any personal data: maybe they worked with anonymized sets? As the BBC reports: “The researchers said they were “not at liberty” to disclose where the information had been collected and said steps had been taken to guarantee the participants’ anonymity.
    For example, individual phone numbers were disguised as 26 digit security codes.”

    In any case, I think that this kind of research is really fascinating and we should be able to organize it in ways that respect fundamental freedoms – much as we already do with lots of medical and other research…

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