23andMe frantically changed its terms of service to prevent hacked customers from suing

23andMe frantically changed its terms of service to prevent hacked customers from suing

Pranav Dixit

Genetic testing company 23andMe changed its terms of service to prevent customers from filing class action lawsuits or participating in a jury trial days after reports revealing that attackers accessed personal information of nearly 7 million people — half of the company’s user base — in an October hack.

In an email sent to customers earlier this week viewed by Engadget, the company announced that it had made updates to the “Dispute Resolution and Arbitration section” of its terms “to include procedures that will encourage a prompt resolution of any disputes and to streamline arbitration proceedings where multiple similar claims are filed.” Clicking through leads customers to the newest version of the company’s terms of service that essentially disallow customers from filing class action lawsuits, something that more people are likely to do now that the scale of the hack is clearer.

“To the fullest extent allowed by applicable law, you and we agree that each party may bring disputes against the other party only in an individual capacity and not as a class action or collective action or class arbitration,” the updated terms say. Notably, 23andMe will automatically opt customers into the new terms unless they specifically inform the company that they disagree by sending an email within 30 days of receiving the firm’s notice. Unless they do that, they “will be deemed to have agreed to the new terms,” the company’s email tells customers.

23andMe did not respond to a request for comment from Engadget.

In October, the San Francisco-based genetic testing company headed by Anne Wojcicki announced that hackers had accessed sensitive user information including photos, full names, geographical location, information related to ancestry trees, and even names of related family members. The company said that no genetic material or DNA records were exposed. Days after that attack, the hackers put up profiles of hundreds of thousands of Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people for sale on the internet. But until last week, it wasn’t clear how many people were impacted.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, 23andMe said that “multiple class action claims” have already been against the company in both federal and state court in California and state court in Illinois, as well as in Canadian courts.

Forbidding people from filing class action lawsuit, as Axios notes, hides information about the proceedings from the public since affected parties typically attempt to resolve disputes with arbitrators in private. Experts, such as Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Nancy Kim, an online contractor expert, told Axios that changing its terms wouldn’t be enough to protect 23andMe in court.

The company’s new terms are sparking outrage online. “Wow they first screw up and then they try to screw their users by being shady,” a user who goes by Daniel Arroyo posted on X. “Seems like they’re really trying to cover their asses,” wrote another user called Paul Duke, “and head off lawsuits after announcing hackers got personal data about customers.”

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