A systematic literature review of individuals' perspectives on privacy and genetic information in the United States

PLoS One. 2018 Oct 31;13(10):e0204417. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204417. eCollection 2018.


Concerns about genetic privacy affect individuals' willingness to accept genetic testing in clinical care and to participate in genomics research. To learn what is already known about these views, we conducted a systematic review, which ultimately analyzed 53 studies involving the perspectives of 47,974 participants on real or hypothetical privacy issues related to human genetic data. Bibliographic databases included MEDLINE, Web of Knowledge, and Sociological Abstracts. Three investigators independently screened studies against predetermined criteria and assessed risk of bias. The picture of genetic privacy that emerges from this systematic literature review is complex and riddled with gaps. When asked specifically "are you worried about genetic privacy," the general public, patients, and professionals frequently said yes. In many cases, however, that question was posed poorly or only in the most general terms. While many participants expressed concern that genomic and medical information would be revealed to others, respondents frequently seemed to conflate privacy, confidentiality, control, and security. People varied widely in how much control they wanted over the use of data. They were more concerned about use by employers, insurers, and the government than they were about researchers and commercial entities. In addition, people are often willing to give up some privacy to obtain other goods. Importantly, little attention was paid to understanding the factors-sociocultural, relational, and media-that influence people's opinions and decisions. Future investigations should explore in greater depth which concerns about genetic privacy are most salient to people and the social forces and contexts that influence those perceptions. It is also critical to identify the social practices that will make the collection and use of these data more trustworthy for participants as well as to identify the circumstances that lead people to set aside worries and decide to participate in research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Privacy / psychology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • United States