Privacy Concerns Amid Farm Data Headed to the Cloud


In this part of the world we had 2 inches of rain last weekend, which has essentially put a bit of a damper on spring planting. Aside from a few sugar beets in the ground corn planting is really hasn’t got out of the gate. That seems to be the case across the Eastern corn belt, with the Western corn belt showing a little bit of progress. Needless to say, I’m starting out a bit behind schedule, let’s hope it all gets better from here.

In the meantime, I find myself doing all kinds of maintenance and tweaking just to make things better once I hit the ground running. It’s interesting, when I look at the social media network twitter, I often see many farmers mounting ever more monitors in their tractor cabs. I often think to myself some of these tractors look more like spaceships than a tractor. There seems to be a video screen to monitor just about everything.

I’ve got one monitor per tractor and I fully believe that auto steer is the eighth wonder of the world. Aside from that, there are all kinds of services available today that require those monitors in the cab, most, which collect farmer data. This farmer data is important to the farmer driving the tractor but it also is harvested by several different companies, which market that data. I think farmers should be paid for that data and paid very well.

Not everybody agrees with me about that. Over the last three years I’ve started to think that this is much more of a generational divide among farmers. For instance, younger farmers who are very accustomed to sharing information on the Internet are much more comfortable doing this. They see it simply as the oxygen of life. Other farmers, who are older and actually farmed before the Internet was commercially available are not so comfortable with the free exchange of personal data on the Internet. Needless to say, there is a difference of opinion when it comes to what data privacy really is.

I find the self-importance of the big data companies a little bit too much to take. Case in point is Facebook. You might remember the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testifying last year to Congress regarding the privacy breach with Cambridge Analytica. This performance was commanding, but it reeked of somebody who thought they were above the law. Interestingly enough, after a joint investigation by the Federal and BC privacy commissioners here in Canada Facebook has been accused of serious contraventions of our privacy laws.

I find the self-importance of the big data companies a little bit too much to take. Case in point is Facebook. You might remember the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testifying last year to Congress regarding the privacy breach with Cambridge Analytica. This performance was commanding, but it reeked of somebody who thought they were above the law. Interestingly enough, after a joint investigation by the Federal and BC privacy commissioners here in Canada Facebook as many accused of serious contraventions of our privacy laws. The commissioners also announced that Facebook is refusing to accept their findings or make any of the requested changes. It reminds me of when Netflix appeared before the CRTC in Ottawa and refused to answer questions. It seems that some of these high-tech data rich companies act like they’re above the law.

I don’t have a Facebook account mainly because I’ve never been comfortable with giving out that much personal information. I also think it’s a generational thing. However, I do realize that the world knows a lot about me, not only because of the Google earth pictures of my farms or just a simple Google search of my name. I’m sure Twitter knows a lot about me. Remember, I’m the guy that thinks he should be paid for all that. Clearly, the privacy cat’s been out of the bag for a long time. Putting the toothpaste back in the tube never really works well.

In many ways, I think in 2019 we have reached a watershed moment about these privacy concerns within agriculture and beyond. In Canada, Facebook is ignoring our privacy commissioner’s concerns. In the United States Facebook said that they expect to pay a $5 billion fine to the US Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations. Does that make you feel any easier about all that agricultural data being transferred seamlessly into the cloud? It sure makes me think twice. As it is, some of these companies are taking us for granted and laughing at us at the same time. It is 2019 and the world is coming at us fast.