Monday, January 4, 2016

Agriculture Big Data Legal Issues and Protections: Part 1 - Background

Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney

In recent years, the term “Big Data” has been used with increased frequency.  In general, Big Data refers to the modern practice of collecting and using computers to process incredibly large amounts of information for a designed purpose.  A common example of this would be when online companies collect information, based on social media activities, in order to present likely consumers with targeted advertisements.

By processing the collected information, Big Data promises businesses the potential to increase profits through a more efficient use of their limited resources.  In the example of online advertisement, recording social media activities and habits allow businesses to present consumers with products they are inclined to purchase and not with those they are unlikely to buy.  By employing this approach, advertising dollars are concentrated where they are likely to have the greatest affect.  While the monitoring of social media activities may offer businesses a significant marketing tool, it also raises questions regarding control of the collected data and the personal privacy of those being observed.

Recently, Big Data has become widely associated with agricultural production.  Proponents of agricultural Big Data assert that better understanding of agricultural information (such as that related to crop production) will allow farmers, like other businesses, to more efficiently use their limited resources (such as land, water, seed, and fertilizer).  Others in the agricultural community have been reluctant to embrace agricultural Big Data because of concerns over control of the information collected and loss of personal privacy; the same apprehensions associated with the monitoring of social media activities.

While most farmers have heard of the term agricultural Big Data, large numbers of them do not fully understand how agricultural Big Data affects (or potentially affects) their own agricultural operations.  Nevertheless, farmers are now being approached by companies offering to sell their agricultural Big Data services.  Because these farmers are being asked to decide on whether or not to utilize agricultural Big Data, it is now necessary that they understanding the meaning of the term agricultural Big Data; that they comprehend the key legal issues regarding agricultural Big Data; and that they become aware of the potential legal protections available to those who decide to utilize agricultural Big Data.

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