Farmers are using technology such as GPS and weather reports these days to save time and money and increase crop yields, and many are being asked to share their data collected from that technology. The sharing issue has raised many worries about security and privacy. The American Farm Bureau Federation recently met with officials from six large “agricultural technology” companies to discuss those concerns.
Farmers want to know exactly how their data will be used and who will have access to it. Thatcher says the vast majority of the 60 companies that offer “ag tech” services say they will make the details anonymous. “Usually it means I’ll remove the name if I have the Social Security number, if I have an address, a phone number etcetera. But lots of time they are not removing the GPS locations — because it’s the GPS locations that say ‘put more fertilizer on this part of the field’,” she explains. The problem is, those GPS coordinates are a big key to other information. “If you’ve got the GPS coordinates, you pretty much know who I am and what farm I’m farming on,” Thatcher says.
There are questions about who gets to see all the aggregated information. For example, could the U.S. E.P.A. identify farmers who idle their equipment for what it considers too long to be good for air quality? Or could a seed dealer learn how planting is going for local farmers and use that information to compete in their own fields? Or could investment banks and traders use it to make a lot of money on commodities markets?