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Privacy Matters

March 8, 2014
By: Ben Potter, Social Media and Innovation Editor google + 

Make sure you safeguard your data

Ask any farmer about who owns their farm data, and the response is often immediate, if not laughable.

"Who owns the data? I do—and that’s the way it should be," offers Illinois farmer Brian Corkill.

Corkill has been developing customized field prescriptions for the past decade, working with a third-party consultant. He has data use agreements in place, so he’s comfor­table with the value he has reaped from sharing on-farm data. That comfort level is not universal across the farm community right now, however.

"I’ve talked with several guys, and there has been some skepticism around using the cloud and data sharing," he says. "How do we know who actually has access to it?

People don’t always understand exactly how it works."

The truth is, data is not an abstract in agriculture anymore. It has manifested itself as Monsanto Company’s FieldScripts, John Deere’s, Trimble’s Connected Farm, AGCO’s Ag Command and other products. That also means today’s producers aren’t just raising crops—they’re also farming data by the gigabyte.

The benefits are apparent: Those who can harness this data can make better management decisions and reap higher yields and profits. However, with the big data movement comes concerns about how agribusiness are using this data, who they are sharing it with and how they are keeping it secure.

How you’re protected. One challenge of data privacy and security has been how to categorize it from a legal standpoint, according to Shannon Ferrell, associate professor of agricultural law at Oklahoma State University. Various experts have investigated farm data privacy as a potential component of trademark, patent or copyright law, to no avail. The best current framework is to treat your farm data as a trade secret, he says.

Under the Uniform Trade Secret Act, farm data could be considered "information, including a pattern … that derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known … and is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy."

Legalese aside, data privacy and security ultimately comes down to the agreement reached by farmers and their service providers, Ferrell says. That means the not-so-fun task of reading the small print is an essential one, he says.

"When you sign up for a service, you have to read the terms of the service agreement," he says. "Make sure you’re comfortable with them before you sign anything. Public enemy No. 1 is signing off without reading the agreement. It happens all the time."

Another reason it’s important to read service agreements is the variability from company to company and even from dealer to dealer, Ferrell says. Some equipment dealers understand the critical nature of data privacy agreements and have begun including terms in their service agreements. Others have not yet clearly specified their terms, although there’s mounting pressure to do so.

If you don’t like the terms (or if they aren’t defined), don’t be afraid to negotiate your own data usage agreement, Ferrell adds. Just make sure to have it in place before you buy—many tractors’ telemetry functions are activated as soon as they come off the assembly line.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - March 2014
RELATED TOPICS: Farm Business, Technology

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