Blog by: Ben Schaap

Although many data specialists in agriculture have raised awareness about possible exploitation of individual farm data by value chain partners, no significant piece of evidence has surfaced until now.  In Oklahoma, America a number of poultry growers filed a law suit because they believe their data has been used against their own interest by value chain partners who received that data through a trusted data intermediary. Recently GODAN published two papers about data sharing that are relevant to this particular case. In our ‘Responsible Data in Agriculture’ paper we discuss aspects such as risks, power asymmetries and trust and in our ‘Data Ownership’ paper we discuss the legal aspects that are relevant to data sharing.

In the lawsuit, data intermediary AgriStats, Inc. is believed to have shared individual production data to Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms and other integrators in the value chain. The value chain partners used data to drive production prices down at the cost of the growers. Data provided by AgriStats allegedly revealed crucial data points of individual farms to the value chain partners who used this at their benefit.

Despite the mission statement of AgriStats “Improve the bottom line profitability for our participants by providing accurate and timely comparative data while preserving confidentiality of individual companies” something must have gone wrong, either deliberately or by mistake.

In this case the growers have been sharing data with AgriStats in order to get better comparative data about their efficiency in order to improve broiler chicken production. The growers trusted AgriStats that this data would indeed be kept confidential and although their business model clearly thrives on this trust, in this case data intermediary AgriStats failed to deliver.

How does this all relate to open data? There are similarities with responsible  open data use and the example of sharing data from the lawsuit. When sharing data there are a certain number of entities that make an agreement about the level of sharing and the use of the data. Licenses, NDA’s and other legal contracts may (or may not) be involved to formalize these agreements.

When publishing open data there is also an agreement about sharing but this agreement applies to everyone and the use of the data is unrestricted, the CC-0 licence sets the data free. The above has in my opinion an important implications for responsible data use. Opening up data means that there is some level of awareness about the confidentiality of the data that is opened. The data publisher should be aware of this and will carefully select what data can be released. In principal a private company will only open data that is pre-competitive for their business model. A government will most likely publish data that citizens can trust.

However, this law suit shows that although companies are aware of the trust relation they have built with their customers, they may still breach that trust unwanted.

See the original article here: America's First Ag Data Case