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Who's data is it anyway?

Tue 10, Dec 2019


Agriculture is rapidly evolving into a digitally-enabled, automated and technology-dependent industry. From the experience consumers of digital products have had in recent years with social media and other data-rich processes, we can be assured that ethics will become a critical component in many aspects of agtech, including related to the advice given in this area.

Without a consideration of ethics, new technologies run the risk of alienating users (i.e. producers) and potentially impacting consumers downstream. New technologies like genetic modification when it was introduced commercially, suffered from a clear and consistent communication of ethical considerations, and as a result, agriculture is feeling the effects years later.

The Ag Institute of Australia (AIA) has recognised the importance of ethics in agtech, particularly in the areas of data ownership, management of client’s data, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for automation.

In the absence of clear agriculturally-focused data laws and guidelines, using agtech requires individuals to have an awareness and understanding of their ‘ethics’ as professionals. Developing an awareness and proficiency in ethics is an important development need for all professionals and many practitioners who are working in Australian agriculture. This applies to agtech probably more than any other part of agriculture.

Last week, Scott McKinnon and myself presented a paper on Ethics in Agtech at the University of Sydney Law School. The focus of the presentation was to introduce ethics in the light of agtech, and specifically the ethical questions professionals need to think through when working with client data, based on impactful case studies. We used a case study involving yield mapping software and worked through the ethical dilemmas that an advisor or consultant will face when using a client’s data set.

Key issues that we raised were to always seek permission to use other’s data, consider the data use scenario’s, and use clauses in your contracts which clearly demarcates how data will be used. We also highlighted the importance of ensuring what your obligations are under an end user licence agreement that you sign up too with software providers.

You will find the presentation linked here.

The AIA is now running ethics masterclasses. The purpose of these is to support members and other agricultural professionals to become familiar with ethical issues, to start conversations with clients on ethical issues, and to support applicants for the Chartered Scheme, which must the pass the ethics examination as part of the CAg application process.

Are you considering ethical issues when using data provided to you by your grower clients?

What ethical dilemmas are you finding in the work that you do?

I am interested to know your experience in this important area and particularly interested in material that you may wish to share (anonymised of course).

Turlough Guerin CAg
Chair AIA


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