Scientists are criticizing an app that purports to tell users how gay they are, saying it is not only unreliable but could end up putting users in harm’s way.
The app, from a startup company called Insolent.AI and developer Joel Bellenson, is marketed on GenePlaza’s website and claims it can use results from DNA tests to gauge a user’s degree of same-sex attraction, online publication Futurism reports. But scientists say the app is “useless at best and dangerous at worst,” according to Futurism.
“My thoughts on this app is that it is garbage,” Deanna Church, a genetics expert and an executive at the biotech company Inscripta, told the publication. “You cannot tell ‘how gay’ someone is from looking at their DNA, and I don’t think you will ever be able to do this.”
Futurism and other news sources said the app is called How Gay Are You? but now the name listed on GenePlaza’s site is 122 Shades of Gray; GenePlaza CEO Alain Coletta had said earlier this week that he and the developers were discussing a name change. While the page for the app has a disclaimer saying it does not predict same-sex attraction, it also includes graphs showing sample results that indicate how a person’s degree of that attraction compares to that of other users.
The app came out in September, a month after the publication of a scientific study that concluded there is no single “gay gene” but that there are genetic influences on sexual orientation. “This app attempts to quantify the sum of these small effects,” the app’s page on GenePlaza reads.
Disclaimers or no, the app could be used for discriminatory purposes, scientists say. “I won’t speculate on the intentions of the provider of the app, though it is clear the potential for misuse is great,” Church said. “It is clear the science to support this is not there.”
Developer Bellenson lives in Uganda, where lawmakers may soon consider legislation that provides for the death penalty for certain instances of same-sex relations, Futurism notes. The nation’s Parliament debated similar legislation a few years ago, then amended it to provide for life imprisonment instead of execution before passing it, but it was struck down by Uganda’s highest court on a technicality.
Scientist Joseph Vitti has started a petition urging that the app be taken down, and he cited Uganda as one of the reasons. “I’m particularly concerned about this because the app’s lead [developer] indicated that he lived in Uganda ... and Uganda is a country where queer people are not protected,” he told The Scientist.
But Bellenson told the publication that concerns regarding his place of residence are “ridiculous.” “It’s insulting to me that they worry that people [in Uganda] would somehow have the luxury to throw around hundreds of dollars for a test — and furthermore, that somehow the authorities would get their test results, which is even more ridiculous,” he said.
This week the authors of the recent genetic study wrote to GenePlaza urging it to remove the app from its store, The Scientist reports. “Our study indicated that individual-level prediction is impossible for same-sex sexual behavior,” Benjamin Neale, a behavioral geneticist at the Broad Institute, wrote for the researchers. “The promotion of this app and, in particular, the claims it makes are a gross and dangerous mischaracterization of the work.”