An article recently published by The New York Times shows how online acquired data allows to pinpoint exact locations of 12 million smartphone users, including many visitors of the Pentagon and the White House. In the article it is explained how this data doesn’t originate from a telecom or giant tech company, nor from a governmental surveillance operation. The data originates form a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto our mobile phone apps.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of all the ways this data could be misused. The examples show how valuable data has become and why it is important that users of platforms stay in control of their data. Data shouldn’t be sold to third parties, unless the data subject is aware of this and explicitly gives consent. Consequently, there should be some form of reward for the data subject for handing over their data, think in the form of money or services.
Data ownership for smallholder farmers
With the introduction of digitalisation in agri-food, farmers too are sharing their localised, personal and transaction data for the sake of receiving support or access to services. The development of digital innovations in agriculture is phenomenal. According to CTA’s Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report 2018-2019, at the moment over 13 percent of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa is connected to smart agri-solutions. This number is only expected to increase as smartphone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow from 25 percent to 50-80 percent by 2030.
Most smallholder farmers are not aware of the risk of data sharing and the implications it has for their privacy, making them an easy target for exploitation by big tech. One could argue that most smallholder farmers have other priorities than data ownership, which should be addressed first. This is true, however, if we are going to connect farmers to smart agri-systems, we should make sure these platforms are fair from the beginning, meaning the value of the data and attention generated by farmers on the platform stays in the hands of the farmer so they don’t get locked up into systems that don’t fully benefit them.