In the beginning, personal data was exchanged for a desired free digital service. Then mission creep led to organizations using their clients’ and or customers’ information even if the service wasn’t free. A recent example would be Verizon’s PrecisionID.

Verizon’s cellular service is not free, the company is tagging their user’s data traffic with a permanent UID, allowing user’s whereabouts on the internet to be tracked. And there is a good chance that information is being sold to third parties. Yet no remittance is being made for the use of it; neither is there any disclosure to the original owner when the data moves beyond the intended recipient, nor any mention whether the original privacy and security stipulations travel with the data.

Apathy is fading

This behavior is not news to privacy pundits. They have been warning about “losing control of data” for years. However, their patient efforts, plus recent privacy-related events, are changing people’s attitude from apathy to concern. As proof, I submit this internet governance and data ownership survey involving more than 23,000 internet users from 24 countries. The project, sponsored by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), determined that 63% of the survey participants disagreed with the following statement: “Share personal information with private companies online all the time and think ‘It’s no big deal’ to do so.”

And third on the CIGI survey’s list of top concerns, following hacking into personal bank accounts and stealing personal information, was monitoring customers’ online activities by companies that would then sell the appropriated information for commercial purposes without the owner’s consent.

Farmers and ag-tech providers decide who owns the data

The agriculture community is being dragged into the big-data era by Agriculture-Technology Providers (ATP). Not a bad thing: big-data analytics should help farmers face the uncertainties inherent to farming. However, farmers are hesitant to lose control of their data and want assurances before they sign contracts.

Mary Kay Thatcher, Senior Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) is one expert the farmers are calling. Thatcher explains the process began two years ago when several farmers called her expressing their concern about losing ownership of their farm data. Contracts were already signed, leaving Thatcher’s hands tied. However, Thatcher discussed the topic with several State Farm Bureaus. No one had a real sense of what it all meant — that’s when Thatcher knew something needed to be done.

Today, after two years of sometimes difficult negotiations: the AFBF, Thatcher, and State Farm Bureaus obtained a consensus between organizations representing farmers and several notable ATPs such as John Deere, DuPont Pioneer, and Dow AgroSciences — with all parties agreeing to sign a document called Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data. “The privacy and security principles that underpin these emerging technologies: whether related to how data is gathered, protected, or shared, must be transparent and secure,” says Bob Stallman, AFBF President in this AFBF press release. “Farmers are excited about this new technology front, which is why Farm Bureau asked these groups to come together and begin this collaborative dialogue.”

Key principles

There are 12 principles in the agreement. The following three representatives, with minimal changes, would work in most circumstances where an individual or organization is asked to provide data to a third-party entity:

● Ownership: We believe farmers own information generated on their farming operations. However, it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with the other stakeholders. The farmer contracting with the ATP ensures that only the data they own or have permission to use is included in the account with the ATP.

● Collection, Access and Control: An ATP’s collection, access, and use of farm data should be granted only with the affirmative and explicit consent of the farmer. This will be by contract agreements whether signed or digital.

Notice: Farmers must be notified that their data is being collected, used, and how the farm data will be disclosed. This notice must be provided in an easily-located and readily-accessible format.

● Transparency and Consistency: ATPs shall notify farmers about the purposes for which they collect and use farm data. They should provide information about how farmers can contact the ATP with any inquiries or complaints, the third parties to which they disclose the data, and the choices the ATP offers for limiting its use and disclosure.

An ATP’s principles, policies and practices should be transparent and consistent with the terms and conditions in their legal contracts. An ATP will not change the customer’s contract without his or her agreement.

Thatcher said all parties are encouraged. Rather than stifling the adaption of big-data technology, everyone feels this agreement will speed up big-data’s acceptance. Something other industries may want to consider.