A Data-Sharing Quandary (OPINION)

It’s funny how very different marketplaces can be almost identical on certain topics at times. As an example, consider the following …

Recently, while driving home from work, I was listening to a report on National Public Radio regarding the question of data-sharing in the medical community. According to the report, many medical providers and their patients are wrestling with the idea of freely sharing all of their information with everyone across the board (as they sometimes currently do on Facebook, for instance).

On one hand, says proponents, this exchange of big data could prove very beneficial to doctors as they work to diagnosis patient problems and prescribe a response. On the other, patient data in the wrong hands could lead to identity theft or predatory individuals to attempt scams on these consumers.

“We need indiscriminate, continuous, multi-sourced data streams to realize the great potential of digital health,” said Dr. Leslie Saxon, chief of cardiology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, on medical data-sharing.

To me, this report was not that surprising. For the past few years — as the idea of big data has taken off — I’ve heard much this same argument from various members of the agricultural marketplace as well. This particularly became the case once Precision Planting, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto, began collecting grower data as part of its FieldScripts effort.

Since that time, many of the trade shows and industry events I’ve attended addressing the topic of Big Data have typically split between the “let’s data-share” and “keep our data private” camps. Both have strong feelings on the question.

As in the pro-medical data-sharing camp, pro-agricultural data sharers also tout the fact that the ultimate goal for virtually all growers is to increase their yields, leading to increased profits. Freely sharing data on ways to accomplish this “will act as a tide rising all boats,” they say.

Of course, the anti-data sharers argue back that “their data belongs to them” and no one else should have access to it, lest it be misused or stolen. (And indeed, back in March, Preci­sion Planting discovered a breach of its database, potentially compromising customer names, addresses, tax identification numbers and the like.)

Where do I sit on this debate, you may be asking? In principle, I tend to side with the pro-data sharers. When I first started covering this business back in 2000, one of the things that really impressed me was how willing ag retailers were to share good ideas with their peers and competitors. Compared with the ultimate secretative candy market I came from, this level of openness was very refreshing indeed.

On August 25, CropLife is holding a one-day event looking at Big Data in Ames, IA. It will be very interesting to hear what comes out of that meeting regarding the “to share or not to share” data question.

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2 comments on “A Data-Sharing Quandary (OPINION)

  1. Eric,

    When I am traveling and I trade my location for the nearest restaurants. I am looking to share my location so I can spend money at your location and Google wins because they connected us. I win because I found what I wanted, the restaurant has one more customer and Google get some more pennies.

    When my yield monitor or planting data gets shared you are looking at my profitability and management not an exchange of information for something i want or need. Trading my P&L for a chance for others to improve my profitability is not a good trade because you are promising that someday because I did what you told me to do I will make more money. Big data needs to focus on trading something that solves my problems now, not the promise of profitability, maybe, some day in the future.

    Every time I read that some company is going to tell me where to plant and how to manage, were not in the field today helping me irrigate, making sure 3 irrigation pumps are running or moving equipment to spray glyphosate resistant pigweeds,

    But to put a positive side to the big data dream, we are called to a continuous improvement philosophy because that is the steel and spirit we are made of. We want a world that is sustainable and that food is where it is needed. We all have ideas on how to get there and we are working towards that destination.

    Growers live the barter system daily,we trade to win and sometimes we trade to lose because we know that someone else is winning. We trade to lose because we care about the person on the other end of the trade. Not so sure that big data gets to start with me losing.

    Good luck with your conference and encourage your attendees to be open minded.

  2. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of the august 25 meeting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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