23andMe Founder Discusses The Promises And Perils Of Genetic Information

Anne Wojcicki, the founder of the popular direct-to-consumer genetics testing company 23andMe, sat down with us at the SXSW Interactive gathering this past weekend in Austin, Texas to discuss both the promise and perils of giving the masses access to their health data.

“If consumers were more empowered, they would take more responsibility for their health,” Wojcicki tells me in the video interview embedded above. Wojcicki has a (very) optimistic belief that if consumers knew how vulnerable they are to obesity and other preventable diseases, they could be significantly reduced.

Unfortunately, federal regulators are worried that 23andMe’s less-than-perfect tests could lead to irresponsible consumer behavior and called on the company to stop making health claims, especially controversial ones related to the probability of getting cancer. Since the letter last November, 23andMe no longer provides many of the health-related information it once did.

“I think there’s a point to regulating, because there are snake oil companies,” she admits, but is adamant that consumers should be allowed access to their own data from companies that are responsible in the ways they talk about genetic information.

Watch the full video above for more details about the future of genetic information, the perils of irrational consumers, and trends in the health business space.