China ‘Eugenics’ Claim as BGI Hoards Prenatal Test DNA Data

Chinese genetics company BGI is accused of misusing fetal DNA harvested from prenatal testing around the world, in violation of privacy rights. For its part, BGI claims its secret collaborations “improve population health outcomes around the world.”

But when the Chinese army gets involved, using phrases such as “improving population quality,” and looking for genotypes to identify Tibetan and Uyghur minorities, things don’t look quite so cuddly and life-improving. BGI’s non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT), branded NIFTY—“Non-Invasive Fetal TrisomY”—has been used by millions of women in more than 50 countries.

While our historic use of eugenics makes for uncomfortable memories, it’s no reason to turn a blind eye to China’s alleged actions. In today’s SB Blogwatch, we shine a light.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: Bohemian CLIPsody.


What’s the craic? Kirsty Needham, Clare Baldwin, Joanna Plucinska, Nathan Allen, Belen Carreno, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, John Shiffman, Michael Martina and Chen Lin tag-team to report—“China’s gene giant harvests data from millions of women”:

Improve population quality
A Chinese gene company selling prenatal tests around the world developed them in collaboration with the country’s military and is using them to collect genetic data from millions of women for sweeping research on the traits of populations. … BGI Group is amassing and analyzing [data] with artificial intelligence … U.S. government advisors warned.

So far, more than 8 million women have taken BGI’s prenatal tests globally. … Other companies selling such prenatal tests also re-use data for research. But none … have BGI’s links to a government or its track record with a national military.

BGI’s prenatal test … is a source of genetic data for the company, which has worked with the Chinese military to improve “population quality.” … The company has published at least a dozen joint studies on the tests with the People’s Liberation Army. [It] for instance, used a military supercomputer to … single out Tibetan and Uyghur minorities to find links between their genes and their characteristics.

BG-who? Here’s Jimmy Quinn with some background—“Chinese Genome-Sequencing Firm”:

Extremely worrying
BGI Genomics [is] a Chinese genome-sequencing firm that U.S. intelligence officials have flagged as potentially sharing Americans’ genetic information with Beijing.

Formerly called Beijing Genomics Institute, [it] is a massive conglomerate with several subsidiaries. The [U.S.] added two of them — Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI — to the Commerce Department’s entity list in 2020 due to their involvement in the mass atrocities targeting ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

BGI’s clear adherence to Beijing’s laws and its global reach are extremely worrying. … The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence warned that BGI might be a “global collection mechanism for Chinese government genetic databases.”

Right to reply? BGI PR ASAP—“Statement in Response”:

Deeply disappointing
BGI’s NIPT tests have been used around the world to identify genetic conditions in pregnancy. These tests provide doctors with the scientific basis to assist millions of pregnant women, leading to better health outcomes and, in some cases, saved lives.

Assertions that BGI is motivated by anything other than the advancement of health outcomes are both deeply disappointing and factually incorrect. … We are proud of the achievements that our scientists have delivered, and we are committed to continuing to work with our partners around the globe to drive new advancements in life science and healthcare.

DNA data collected from prenatal tests on women outside China are not stored in China’s gene bank. All NIPT data collected overseas are stored in BGI’s laboratory in Hong Kong and are destroyed after five years.

“In Hong Kong,” but not “in China.” Forgive me for thinking the distinction is irrelevant now. And WoodstockJeff notes more “weasel words”:

Chinese authorities
BGI said it “has never been asked to provide — nor provided — data from its NIFTY tests to Chinese authorities for national security or national defense purposes.” So, just what purposes DID they provide the information to Chinese authorities?

As does bobsoap, who scoffs thuswise:

They want the data
As if those two very specific use cases are the only possible “reasons” authorities can ever come up with when they want the data.

So what does China want with your DNA? Here’s Gravis Zero’s bet:

Harvesting their organs
Oof. They are taking this genocide of the Uyghurs further than anyone expected. … I’m betting some of the CCP have rare conditions and need to find people with compatible DNA before harvesting their organs.

But at least advael sees a silver lining—of sorts:

Perceived threat
It has the potential to get US-based lawmakers to care about mass data-harvesting enough to make some laws about it. I imagine that privacy laws are easier to get through congress if the perceived threat is a foreign government rather than a home-grown tech giant.

Good luck with that. Let’s pull BytePusher into the narrative:

Meanwhile, in the US police are using genetic data from ancestry websites to track down and arrest actual people. But, yeah, let’s scaremonger more about China.

Fair point. Here’s dragonelite with more on that:

Rules for thee
The US expects the rest of the world to follow their rules based order, where no one knows what the freaking rules are—except rules for thee but not for me (US).

Meanwhile, LenKagetsu feels the need to say the E-word:

Large scale harvesting of genetic info is one of the biggest warnings for both eugenics and genocide. Think about how many women in the US alone were sterilized without their knowledge and against their will.

And Finally:

Artificial intelligence’s literal interpretation of Queen+Shatner

Previously in And Finally

You have been reading SB Blogwatch by Richi Jennings. Richi curates the best bloggy bits, finest forums, and weirdest websites … so you don’t have to. Hate mail may be directed to @RiCHi or [email protected]. Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE. 30.

Image sauce: National Cancer Institute (via Unsplash)

Richi Jennings

Richi Jennings is a foolish independent industry analyst, editor, and content strategist. A former developer and marketer, he’s also written or edited for Computerworld, Microsoft, Cisco, Micro Focus, HashiCorp, Ferris Research, Osterman Research, Orthogonal Thinking, Native Trust, Elgan Media, Petri, Cyren, Agari, Webroot, HP, HPE, NetApp on Forbes and Bizarrely, his ridiculous work has even won awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors, ABM/Jesse H. Neal, and B2B Magazine.

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