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Can you trust Big Tech with your farm's future?Can you trust Big Tech with your farm's future?

Commentary: Troubling trends among largest firms should give growers pause.

Tim Hearden

July 19, 2019

2 Min Read
Laptop on back porch table
Technology has big potential for use in agriculture.Tim Hearden

Agriculture may have initially been slow to make use of new technologies, but that isn’t the case now. Hardly a week goes by when there isn’t a drone or automated machinery demonstration somewhere, and growers are flocking to these events to check out the latest innovations.

And there are plenty of entrepreneurs willing to help them. About 600 of them attended Steve Forbes’ Ag Tech Summit in Salinas in June, including a self-described “entre-manure” whose technology can convert manure into two different types of fertilizers without the use of unsightly lagoons.

Technology has the potential to greatly benefit agriculture. But as enticing as it may seem to be able to conduct farm operations from an office laptop, a grower may want to do a little homework before uploading his or her most precious business data into the cloud, as secure as the vendor promises the information will be.

And considering that many successful tech startups tend to be swallowed up by big firms like Google and Amazon, it’s wise for agriculture at large to pay attention to how these tech industry standard-bearers treat consumers.

It isn’t just that many who work for the companies are left-leaning. To many, including the writers at the free-speech advocacy website Spinquark.com, the problem with Big Tech is that the companies aren’t at all transparent and that they use their services as a form of online government, intimidating and even financially harming those they disagree with. Peter Thiel, a billionaire investor and Facebook board member, even thinks the FBI and CIA should investigate if Google has been infiltrated by Chinese intelligence, according to an Axios report.

How could this affect you, the grower? Let’s say you sign a contract with a cloud-based service that enables you to manage irrigation times, interpret drone pictures of your crop, keep track of fertilizer applications and store your financial statements. Your vendor has all of this information at its fingertips.

Then let’s imagine that six months into the relationship, somebody notices your 2016 Facebook post questioning the veracity of global warming. Then the firm starts demanding you play ball politically as a condition of receiving the service, for which you just invested large sums to install. And, oh yes, you have to get rid of the Roundup, too.

A far-fetched scenario? Perhaps. But if I had a commercial family farm, I would want to do heaps of homework about any company I entrusted my operation to, and make sure contract language protected my freedoms. Ag as a whole should also be fully engaged in responding to Big Tech’s power grab, to the degree that it exists.

Al Gore may not have invented the internet, but his contemporaries think they own it. Your family’s economic future may depend on how you respond to their claim of ownership.

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