EU Farmers Have Greater Data Protection Than U.S. Farmers — The Ag Data Coalition Wants to Help
CEOs from some of the largest tech companies in the world are highlighting the importance of data privacy and security. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple claimed the personal data accumulated by some tech companies is being “weaponized against us with military efficiency.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said privacy is a “human right.” Both statements came on the heels of new strict personal data regulations that went into effect in the EU this year with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The regulations and statements in the overall tech community relate directly to U.S. precision agriculture. The upshot is that European farmers have a level of protection not available to U.S. farmers.
Companies gather information about us from the websites we visit, who our friends are in different systems, what we like in social media platforms, and even by tracking our GPS position through our smartphones. The goal from the vast majority of this data accumulation is target marketing — this lets companies better understand our preferences, to show advertisements for things we might want and are more likely to purchase. While there can be a benefit for us, this information can also be used against us: We can be denied jobs, credit, insurance, and other services based on what companies determine about us.
Additionally, data can be locked in to a specific provider. Have you ever tried to move music from Google Play to iTunes, or transfer your medical records from one doctor to another? These examples are frustrating. The GDPR regulations protect privacy and ensure individual’s rights with regard to personal data. The EU laws mandate a person can obtain a copy of their personal information or request that their personal information be removed from the system. Also, it places strong rules around informing people how data will be used, who has access, how it is shared, and even requires a data protection officer within most companies. These regulations are accompanied by penalties — organizations violating the laws can face a maximum fine of up to 4% of their gross annual global revenue.
Unfortunately, there are no similar regulations protecting U.S. data including agricultural data. Farmers use this information to select variety placement on the farm, create planting rates maps, determine timing of crop nutrient applications, and the like. Current legal protections exist for personal data, financial data, or intellectual property such as a patent or a trade secret, but little beyond. It is clear farmers should be in control of their own data. Let’s run through an example to see why.
A farmer puts three years’ worth of yield data from their combine and accompanying soil samples into System A. They use System A to generate a variable rate seeding map and fertility plan for the growing season, but next winter decide to try Company B’s system. Company A is contacted to get an export of all the data. Company A says that’s not possible, you cannot get your data back out of our system, or if the farmer is able to get their data it has been “cleaned” by the system and is no longer the same data as what came out of the combine. The farmer now doesn’t have the ability to provide System B with the data needed to generate the prescription maps and is stuck using the original tool with little hope of being able to change providers.
That exact problem is what the Agricultural Data Coalition (ADC) is solving. The ADC provides a neutral, independent data repository. This means a farmer can put data into their account and provide access to whomever they choose. It is not modified or changed in any way, and if the farmer decides to no longer use the ADC, a few clicks and all the data stored in their account can be downloaded to a single zip file. This ensures a farmer is in control of their data, always has a secure backup, and has an interface to software tools or service providers that is simple and secure. The data is crucial to business decisions and without a tool like the ADC farmers are often left with few choices in what tools they can use to analyze their information. Without GDPR-like regulations farmers have little chance to obtain a copy of their data, or to have their data removed from a system. The ADC hopes to help farmers stay in control of their data and maintain options in service providers.