Big Data Privacy and Security Issues in Agriculture

By Maria Onofrio

Fri, 15 Jun 2018

Owing to the rapid growth of precision agriculture technologies and tools, the usage and relevant collection of data in agriculture has become one of the most important topics for farmers, companies, policymakers, and researchers in the past years.

Precision agriculture practices and tools allow users to collect extremely large amounts of data (big data) from multiple variables at differing time-scales.

Improved practices of data collection within agriculture presents multiple benefits. Farmers can better manage their crops and increase their yields, and consequently their profits, by having the ability to collect and analyse more information about their operations. Since the producer can also review past performances of strategies, this encourages better management decisions and resultant optimisation that in turn allows growers to produce more using less resources. 

A range of startups now promise to introduce farmers to the latest software solutions that will maximize efficiency and productivity in their farm space, but with this technological burst many commentators are highlighting increased security around big data. Issues can be mainly seen in the context of sharing, security and ownership.

Unfortunately, in terms of regulation, agriculture does not yet have any protocols in terms of security and privacy of data, a loop that leads farmers to negotiate with ag-tech companies on their own terms.

Based on the Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data, a consensus established by various parties in the agriculture industry, the terms of negotiations and principles should be transparent regarding the data technology can collect, and said systems should only collect data with the affirmative and explicit consent of the producer. These principles also recommend that transactions between producers and companies be governed by contracts, in which specific terms should be clearly defined in an understandable way.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the main requests farmers have, would be the process of anonymizing data, meaning that the information collected should be separated from any personal information such as name and location.

Considering the benefits that the collection of information can bring to producers, it is worrying to think that a considerable amount of growers are not investing in technology simply because of a lack of formal standards in privacy and security.

One of the panels for our agricultural workshop, AG40, will look into topics such as this through the context of big data, and will work towards better understanding and exploring the issues underlying this challenge, and how we can, as an industry, find appropriate solutions.

More information on the workshop can be found here, including speakers, attendees and workshop topics.

As a challenge, big data is extremely volatile, and it will be an issue we will continue to look at. Make sure to sign up or follow us on social media to keep up to date with our exclusive insights from this field.

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Maria Onofrio

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