Trace Talks #3: 4 questions on data ownership and data monetisation

Last week we organised the third edition of Trace Talks, a webinar series in which we invite different food professionals to discuss the future of food. In the last edition of the year, our tech director, Marten Van Gils discussed data colonisation with Han Brouwers, programme manager market development for Solidaridad, Shiv Aggarwal, CEO of MyEarth.ID, and Jacob Boersma, identity and blockchain strategy expert. Below you can find the answer to the most pressing questions asked by the webinar audience.

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What about the usage (ownership) of algorithms?

Algorithms are gaining an increasingly more crucial role when it comes to feeding us with the right information at the right time. This can be very useful, but when in control of the wrong hands also very risky. Facebook’s algorithms play a huge role in the polarisation of our society today simply by feeding ‘similar’ groups of people the same information over and over again. Algorithms have an enormous influence on the usability and outcome of tech solutions, also in agritech. Therefore, whenever algorithms are used in tech solutions, they should be transparent, meaning all users should know how they work.

Moreover, preferably you do not just want algorithms to be transparent for all users, but also give the users of a platform a say on how the algorithms work. This could be achieved using blockchain technology. As usability and speed of public blockchains are increasing, one day we will be able to fully govern our online platforms by the users. All logic could be made public using smart contracts and users could vote on which algorithms they think work best for the platform, making it fully democratic and in the hands of the users.

How to deal with farmers operating in low-connectivity areas and/or low rates of smartphone ownership, where there might be data-gathering activities happening (remote sensing, offline sensors on farm, etc.) but where farmers cannot be aware of what is being extracted and their value?

With current sensing technology in place its unlikely companies are able to gain large scale access to personal information from farmers without their own input or participation. This could very well change in the future when facial recognition, drones and other forms of robotics become omnipresent. This will demand stronger forms of legislation in order to prevent privacy violation of farmers.

Can we expect either farmers to use the leverage they have on data, or companies/service providers to take their responsibility? Is there also a role for government/legislation (as well)?

In an ideal world, farmers would unite, work together, and find ways to monetise their own data and become independent data users and suppliers. Of course we are far from that reality today as most farmers are not aware yet of the value of their data and the risks associated with giving it away. Therefore, we definitely see a role for legislation. This question was also asked to the crowd during the webinar and the majority agreed on the fact that governments currently play the largest role in providing a solution.

How about measures for data security?

Lack of data security played a role in many of the examples we gave of the negative consequences of data colonisation. In the 2016 US Election, for instance, Cambridge Analytica used a backdoor into Facebook to get unauthorized access to people’s data. Like with data ownership, there are legal and technical solutions for data security. Legally speaking, strict terms of use that are enforced would be a good place to start. Technically, storing data in decentralized databases or encrypted cloud databases running on servers in politically stable countries is an option to keep data safe from theft and abuse.