We need to talk about data

Last month, AgriDigital was involved in the National Farmers’ Federation, Farm Data Workshop. We joined a room full of businesses and individuals passionate about finding a secure way to manage data across the agriculture industry; discussing the Precision 2 Decision report, data governance and how we can prepare our models and understanding of data to embrace the future of digital agriculture.

It’s about data control, not ownership

A misconception when it comes to data, is that the only challenge is data ownership. In reality, focusing on issues of data ownership can distract from more pressing issues. Certainly ownership is important, for we would assume it is the owner who can decide who has control or access, but as data continues to be generated by a range of different devices, platforms and sources in a decentralised and asynchronous way, the question of data ownership becomes incredibly complex.

Often in these instances, the most valuable question should not be who owns the data, but who has access or permission to use that data. And most importantly, for what purpose do they have permission to use data?

Software providers, like AgriDigital, use data to execute high value and automated processes in the back end. Essentially, we use data in order to provide a valuable software that helps our customers’ businesses. When a user enters information into our platform we run it through various calculations, algorithms and processes that quickly returns answers and services replacing otherwise very complex and manual tasks.

In these cases, the purpose of using customer data is to allow us to provide a service of value. Software providers need to be very clear on how and why they are using customer data. When customers subscribe to a software, the purpose for which the software provider uses that customers data should be to fullfill that promise of providing a service.

Governance is useful but we need technical standards

Data security is a different challenge in the digital era, both in relation to storing and sharing data. Within agriculture, this is arising as a broad concern, particularly since we are an industry that traditionally hasn’t had great awareness of how our data should be protected from cyber exploitation.

Globally, a legislative roll out is attempting to deal with these challenges. The Consumer Data Right in Australia is being rolled out, beginning in the finance, energy and telecommunications sectors. In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect on 25th May, requiring (amongst other things) all companies doing business with EU members to divulge any data breach — cyber attack, human error or otherwise — to all relevant parties within 72 hours.

The Precision 2 Decision report recommends the creation of an industry wide code of practice to provide clarity and transparency around how data is used within agriculture. In doing so we need to find the right principles, ones that are strong enough to effect change but not too strong that nobody adopts them. Regulators will need to arbitrate the challenge of data ownership, dealing with the legal, ethical and financial questions this raises.

In the meantime, technical service providers should set a standard (a high and transparent one) that dictates best practice in data management, use and control. One of the challenges is often that customers don’t know what to look out for in relation to data management, and simply agree to standard terms and conditions without thinking about what this means for their business.

Providing education as to best practice data management will make the entire industry better off, as greater knowledge would dispel fear around data abuse by software providers. This fear often leads to a tendency to lock down data and try to prevent any form of data sharing.

But why shouldn’t we lock down our data? Look what is happening with Facebook…

This fear around data misuse is far from foolish. It seems there are almost daily allegations of large organisations with access to enormous amounts of data abusing their position to use cusomter data to gain a benefit that was clearly not in their customers’ best interest.

However, with the amount of data being created, the knee-jerk reaction that attempts to cut off and lock down data is futile in the long term. And, in the short term it increases operational costs and ends up harming the user; failing to share data leads to double data entry, mistakes, and prevents opportunities for greater insights, products and the digitisation of agriculture generally.

Rather, we should be aiming for better education around data management and standards, allowing users to compare different service providers as to their data management practices, and rely on this insight when making decisions as to which software providers to use.

AgriDigital we seek to always apply best practice whenever we deal with our customer data. We believe in creating an environment where our users have maximum control over their data, and we apply this philosophy to every product we create.

If you have any concerns around how AgriDigital stores, shares or deals with data in our platform, please see our terms of use or contact our customer success team — support@agridigital.io