By Samuel W. Anderson

from GeneWatch 27-1 | Jan-Apr 2014

We've all done it, to the point that we don't even joke about it anymore: Clicking "agree" on long, impenetrable contracts, from the wireless login at a Starbucks to, most infamously, the iTunes user agreement.

In her epic essay that leads this issue of GeneWatch, Patricia Williams brings it up - not to chide us for clicking "I agree," or even for doing so despite feeling a bit unsettled about agreeing to something without really knowing what we're agreeing to. She brings it up because maybe, at least for now, most of these agreements really are essentially harmless ... but the more we get used to reflexively signing on the dotted line, the less likely we are to notice what we're signing away. What happens when we don't even feel unsettled by this? More importantly, what happens when the party on the other side of the contract - the ones writing it - realize that we're not paying attention?

If all of this seems old hat and not particularly alarming, check back in a couple of years - because the really alarming stuff is on its way. Does it weird you out when Internet ads seem to know a bit too much about what's going on in your life? A good deal of our web activity comes with our tacit agreement to share what we click on, what we buy, even who we interact with. But here's where it gets scarier: When we lick an envelope or touch the doorknob of a public building, are we giving tacit agreement to share our DNA?

Heather Dewey-Hagborg shows us that this is anything but farfetched: Using the DNA from discarded cigarette butts, chewing gum, or stray hairs found on the subway or the sidewalk, she constructs facial likenesses of strangers.

One thing is clear from the articles on the following pages: We are passed the time when we can talk about genetic privacy as a theoretical concern.

Samuel Anderson is Editor of GeneWatch.

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