Data Privacy, Ownership In Precision Agriculture

A friend recently brought to my attention the formation of a grower organization with the sole purpose of helping producers claim ownership of their agricultural information.

By coincidence, this organization presented its vision in the spring of this year at about the same time that a private contractor working with the National Security Agency fled the country and began leaking information about the inner workings of the agency. The actions of this single individual have brought the concerns of data privacy and ownership into the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. To a lesser, but no less significant degree for the agricultural industry, the new grower organization has brought the same concerns to the forefront of precision agriculture.

Data privacy and ownership have been topics of discussion in precision agriculture since the first global positioning system (GPS) began recording data geospatially more than 25 years ago. From that start and still today, the position of most public and private entities is that any data collected on a farm or any information about a farming operation is private and owned by a grower.

Furthermore, to the extent that a grower shares his or her data or information with permission, they are only to be used in a community analysis. The analogy of blood pressure is commonly used to explain this community sharing of data. In this analogy, an individual shares his or her blood pressure reading in order to calculate the average blood pressure of the community. By having an average reading, one individual can be judged as having blood pressure that is too high or too low relative to a representative, healthy community.

Average readings can be computed for different ages, gender, and weight classes to further narrow the community for judging the relative health of an individual. Since a single reading is lost in an average, the privacy of the individual is assured through the use of statistics.

There is no question that growers benefit by participating in community analyses. Through simple, statistical comparisons, a grower can become aware of the best hybrids to plant and when to plant them along with a selection of other favorable practices for their farming enterprise.

But with the recent sensor and machine-driven surge of “big data,” data privacy and ownership is once again in conversations. To further complicate matters, these collected data are being transferred over the Internet (in the cloud) and being aggregated by different companies for a variety of purposes.

Where To Start

So where does one begin to address the modern challenge of data privacy and ownership. A good start may be to look at the privacy policies of governments or companies.

One federal, privacy legislation which is cited by a number of sources is called the “Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act or PIPEDA.” It was developed by the Canadian government for the private sector. PIPEDA outlines a code for protecting personal information in commercial activities. The code consists of 10 privacy principles, which may have application to the data privacy concerns in precision agriculture. Adding the word “data” in parentheses to the original wording for information, the principles could be applied to precision agriculture.

The 10 principles are: accountability; identifying purposes; consent; limiting collection; limiting use, disclosure and retention; accuracy; safeguards; openness; individual’s access; and challenging compliance. In a nutshell, the PIPEDA code requires an organization to designate a responsible individual to oversee an organization’s compliance to the principles.

The information (data), itself, must be used for the purposes intended and with the consent of the owner. The use, disclosure and retention of collected information (data) must be limited to the stated purposes. The information (data) must be accurate and protected with safeguards so as not be distributed or used beyond the stated purposes. The owner of the information (data) must have access to his or her information (data) and must be informed of its existence, use, and disclosure. Lastly, the owner has the right to challenge a company’s compliance by complaining to the designated individual responsible for compliance.

The 10 principles in the PIPEDA code address privacy, as there is still the concern about the ownership of data and information. Historically, ownership was synonymous with possession. If a person materially possessed something, then he or she owned that something. Possession is pretty straight forward. A person can hold on to something or lock it up. Problems arise when a person wants to share that something with someone else.

The act of sharing raises the question of control. This is especially true in commerce where an individual markets an invention or creative work. In making a sale, the owner does not relinquish control as evidenced by a patent or copyright. However, by exposing an invention or creative work to the public, the owner runs the risk of illegal use or, worse, duplication and redistribution.

In the case of precision agriculture, the something of ownership is grower data and information about operations. Unlike material things, data and information are bits and bytes travelling physically over wires or electromagnetically through airwaves. They are very hard to control since their use is dependent on third-party infrastructure and software. Add in unscrupulous individuals and ubiquitous hackers, data and information are nearly impossible to control. Clearly, if ownership is lost in the “cyber” world, then there is the risk that privacy could also be compromised.

Automation Clouds The Picture

The dilemma facing growers today is that more and more data and information are being generated by machines, sensors, and other devices on their farms. Control of these generated data and information is virtually impossible unless a grower does not want to communicate with the outside world. But the outside world offers numerous services to help analyze and interpret his or her locally, collected data.

Since a grower, especially one of a younger generation, wants to be connected to the cyber world, the easiest solution is to find a trusted partner, be it a grower organization as mentioned earlier or a company. That trusted partner must demonstrate adherence to the privacy principles and respect ownership rights. Any effort made by a grower to protect data and ensure the privacy of information outside of some sort of partnership will end up being a full time job leaving little time for farming.

The line between what data and information a grower is willing to share and a company is allowed to use will keep vacillating in the future. There are no easy solutions. Growers need to be vigilant in the management and protection of their data and information and be knowledgeable about the purposes and practices of other individuals and companies with whom they are sharing that data and information.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Data Privacy, Ownership In Precision Agriculture

  1. Joe,
    Very interesting article and very thought provoking. You expanded on your 2011 post nicely. Some big decisions need to be made in the very near future regarding ownership and sharing of precision ag data. There are parallels with other big data models, many of which are in the news recently, Google, Yahoo, MSFT, big IT players selling data to profit from our usage of their product not to mention the NSA spying you reference. I fear that ag producers, if not careful will invest in equipment and pay big fees to help manage all the inputs (seed selection, fertilizer, herb., fung., insecti..,) and if all this data is not secured in the cloud then other entities (including the ones collecting the management fees) are able to profit from this information and in a twist of irony actually do damage to to the producer. The producer and his immediate crop adviser/scout/support team should be the only ones who see this data, especially during the production year. Perhaps the data could be aggregated and made available for the prior season(s) to a larger base but I see problems even in that model. I guess that is what you are calling community analysis. Community analysis for ag to me means test/research plots, where variables are controlled and calibrated accurate yields are available. To compare yields of brand X across a larger sample size, i.e. many growers, would require knowing much more about the other inputs on a per field basis. Not all of this data is currently available or in the cloud but if it were and it were not protected then the danger to the producer would be quite large as a very accurate model could be constructed based on historical data and what’s happening almost real time with this years production inputs.

    In my opinion, the intrinsic dangers in data sharing beyond the producer and his/her immediate support team are not much different than a cell phone or internet service user who pays for a service but then has their data subjugated, re-packaged, and parsed out for profit in the name of analytics. Oh what the big multi-nat’s and commercials Carg.. ADM, et. al wouldn’t give to see the different layers of GIS data potentially available during the current production year. Acres, general weather trends, supply/demand should be more than enough for the commercials to make money. I guess farmers could make it easier for them though if they allow the purchase or sharing of in season FDVI/rainfall/fertilizer/herb/fung/insecticide/degree days/ and heaven for bid how historical yield data correlates to the current season’s growing conditions. Producers need to start looking at anyone between them and the end user as a competitor, at least in the sense that you are competing to make the most money from a commodity that you produced. They are there to make money from your production.

    Producers are/should be investing in these types of technologies to improve margins and achieve a bigger percentage of their cut from the supply chain. I’ve done a fair amount of research on this topic and in the case of the cell phone/ISP users you actually have signed your rights away. As precision ag continues to unfold with improved sensors, imaging, increased use of prescirptions, etc., let’s hope that producers realize who they want to open their books up to so to speak, the farmer down the road competing with you for land (cited as an example of something that’s never done), or big data, where several people stand to profit, likely at your expense. Hope this generates some thought/discussion.

  2. […] makes it accessible to farmers at many price points, especially with collective discounts and nonprofit assistance. The customization it enables improves crop yields far better than the one-size-fits-all […]

Data Management Stories
Data ManagementNew Partnerhship Between AgIntegrated, CDMS, SeediQ Will Create Single Source Reference Data API
January 18, 2017
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), CDMS, Inc. and SeediQ announce a partnership to develop, promote, and sell a single-source crop input reference Read More
Data ManagementProspera Selected for Top 100 Artificial Intelligence Rankings
January 11, 2017
CB Insights today selected Prospera to the prestigious Artificial Intelligence 100 list (“AI 100”), a select group of emerging private Read More
Corn Field
Data ManagementWaypoint Analytical, Highland Precision Ag Announce Strategic Alliance
January 9, 2017
Waypoint Analytical (WP), based in Memphis, TN, and Highland Precision Ag (HPA), based in Mulberry, FL, are pleased to announce Read More
Wade Barnes Farmers Edge using FarmCommand
Data ManagementFarmers Edge Makes Precision Ag Simple
January 3, 2017
Jon Labine of Argyle, MN, is a regional sales representative for Farmers Edge Inc., one of the latest entries in Read More
Trending Articles
PrecisionAg.com featured image
ProfessionalsWelcome to the Newly Enhanced PrecisionAg.com
December 29, 2016
Talk a quick look around our website and we hope you’ll notice it’s significantly different as we head into 2017 Read More
Ryan Raguse and Matthew Grassi
ProfessionalsIndustry Executives Talk New PrecisionAg Professional Brand
December 19, 2016
EFC Systems President and CEO Ernie Chappell Myriad Mobile Cofounder and Chairman Ryan Raguse Read More
PrecisionAg Professional logo
Industry NewsMeister Media Debuts PrecisionAg Professional
December 13, 2016
Agricultural technology is accelerating, and precision agriculture is gaining renewed interest across cropping systems. At the same time, growers are Read More
NDSU IoT
Sensors/IoTNew Farming Focused IoT Partnership Announced
December 13, 2016
Infiswift, an enterprise Internet of Things (IoT) platform developer, announces a partnership to develop IoT solutions with Acuitus Ag, an Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
Data ManagementFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Latest News
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
EventsRetailers, Consultants Untangle Software Decision Proce…
January 19, 2017
Today, business and agronomy management software is the engine that facilitates a smooth running ag business. The next software decision Read More
Ag Weather Service
Decision Support SoftwareSciFi in Ag: Will Amazon’s Alexa Control the Fami…
January 19, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Data ManagementNew Partnerhship Between AgIntegrated, CDMS, SeediQ Wil…
January 18, 2017
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), CDMS, Inc. and SeediQ announce a partnership to develop, promote, and sell a single-source crop input reference Read More
Corn Field Sunset
Ag Tech GlobalAg Technology Among Focus Areas For Kohli Impact Invest…
January 18, 2017
Tej Kohli, a serial entrepreneur, global businessman and philanthropist, has announced he has earmarked an initial $25 million USD, through his Read More
Terry Griffin
Business ManagementUsing High Tech To Make Farm Decisions
January 17, 2017
Raj Khosla, professor of precision agriculture at Colorado State University, challenged farmers to think about how far the technology of Read More
Decisive Farming My Farm Manager mobile app
Ag Tech GlobalLeading Canadian Farming Co-op Brings In New Tech To Bo…
January 17, 2017
Co-op, one of the largest agricultural retailers in Western Canada, is partnering with farm management company Decisive Farming to provide Read More
Business ManagementCNH Names Danford Industry Relations Manager
January 17, 2017
Dan Danford has been named Industry Relations Manager, Precision Solutions and Telematics (PS&T), for CNH Industrial, parent company of agricultural Read More
Australian Harvest
Ag Tech GlobalAustralian Precision Agriculture Market, Forecast To 20…
January 13, 2017
Research and Markets has announced the addition of the “Australian Precision Agriculture Market, Forecast to 2020” report to their offering. Read More
Norris planter
Innovation SeriesCompelling Consultant Panel Kicks Off Next Month’s Prec…
January 12, 2017
Jeremy Wilson, Technology Specialist at CropIMS and renowned precision expert, leads a panel of top precision consultants to kick off Read More
Data ManagementProspera Selected for Top 100 Artificial Intelligence R…
January 11, 2017
CB Insights today selected Prospera to the prestigious Artificial Intelligence 100 list (“AI 100”), a select group of emerging private Read More
Business ManagementBREAKING: FAA Considering Less Restrictive Commercial D…
January 11, 2017
FAA is working toward allowing more freedom for drone operators, and at the same time is working with NASA on Read More
DronessenseFly, Agribotix Combine eBee SQ and FarmLens Offeri…
January 11, 2017
Agribotix has partnered with senseFly to offer a new combined solution for professional users. This technology solution combines the top Read More
Sentera software
DronesSentera Announces NDVI Livestream Capabilities for Doub…
January 10, 2017
Sentera today announced the upcoming release of LiveNDVI Video: livestreamed NDVI video via Sentera’s Double 4K sensor. This breakthrough technology Read More
Young Corn Field
Ag Tech GlobalEurocontrol To Commercialize Precision Agricultural Ini…
January 9, 2017
Eurocontrol Technics Group Inc., a Canadian public company specializing in the acquisition, development and commercialization of innovative test and measurement Read More
Corn Field
Data ManagementWaypoint Analytical, Highland Precision Ag Announce Str…
January 9, 2017
Waypoint Analytical (WP), based in Memphis, TN, and Highland Precision Ag (HPA), based in Mulberry, FL, are pleased to announce Read More
Western Canada Wheat field
EventsSixth Annual Precision Ag Summit Set for January 16-17 …
January 4, 2017
The 6th annual Precision Ag Summit will be held Jan. 16-17, at the North Dakota Farmers Union Conference Center in Read More
University of California Merced Professor Stefano Carpin
Hort TechRobots, People Working Together To Save Water, Enhance …
January 3, 2017
A nearly $1 million grant from the USDA is helping University of California researchers refine collaborative robotic technology that could Read More
Wade Barnes Farmers Edge using FarmCommand
Data ManagementFarmers Edge Makes Precision Ag Simple
January 3, 2017
Jon Labine of Argyle, MN, is a regional sales representative for Farmers Edge Inc., one of the latest entries in Read More