WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2016 - How many times have you allowed some technology company to collect your data, but not been exactly sure about how it’s going to be used? Or how often have you wondered whether the terms governing use and privacy have changed since you last updated your software?

A new “Transparency Evaluator” (TE) tool may soon be available to help farmers more easily wade through the legal documentation and make comparisons between products from various agricultural technology providers (ATP).

The concept for the TE was fairly straightforward: Develop an evaluation tool that allows simple “yes” or “no” questions about basic data collection. Include links to the actual language in a company’s privacy policy that enable users to drill down for more detailed information. Sample questions could include:

·         Does the ATP agreement address what happens to my data if the ATP is sold to another company?

·         Does the ATP agreement address ownership of my data after my data is transferred?

·         Are there other companies that work with the ATP (and may have access to my data) bound by the same privacy terms I agreed to with the ATP?

However, producing an actual tool was anything but simple for members of the Transparency Evaluator (TE) Working Group. The result was the product of months of discussions that were originated in 2014 by the American Farm Bureau Federation and included representatives from the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Farmers Union, the National Cotton Council, USA Rice and six ATPs, like Deere, Dow and Beck’s Hybrids.

This group first developed 13 principles on privacy and security. Now, 35 groups have endorsed those basic principles.

“When we completed the principles document, some of us decided we needed a tool to make it easier for farmers to evaluate how those they were considering doing business with fared on those principles,” says the Farm Bureau’s Mary Kay Thatcher. “That’s when we latched onto the idea of a ‘Transparency Evaluator’.”

How it works:

Each ATP would initially complete the Evaluator and a TE Administrator would then certify that he or she agrees with the documentation. Then the ATP would receive notice that it is eligible for the TE seal of approval and would be free to communicate this accomplishment to its farmer customers.

“This type of ATP self-certification at the beginning of the process has two advantages,” explained Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst during congressional testimony on this subject last fall. “It requires the ATP to engage in the process and, in the long term, we hope the evaluation will shape the privacy policies and other legal documents the ATPs attempt to certify”

The TE will be product-based rather than company-based, recognizing that equipment companies like John Deere have multiple farm data products available to their customers. Therefore, the TE will evaluate each product separately. The working group hopes to have the TE available in March or April.

“In its simplest form, I would describe the Evaluator as a combination of a Consumer Reports review and a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” said Hurst.


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