As agricultural machines generate ever greater amounts of data in daily operation, Richard Knight – founder and CEO of Terbine – recently addressed the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) with his views on the ownership of such information.

It should be noted that in North America organisations are not bound by such legislation as the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), yet many US-based manufacturers sell machinery into the EU. As such, it contains software designed for the US market.

He first noted that there are no easy answers as to who actually owns the information. This situation, he feels, has distinct advantages for companies that are “motivated by a desire to monetise the data”.

He explained further by referring to a widely-held belief:

Generally, the entity that owns the device also owns the data produced by that device.

Yet, it is not as clear-cut as that statement might suggest. He said: “When real-world constructs, such as lease holdings come into play, the issue of ownership gets more complex and murky.”

A further key point he noted is that “possession does not necessarily equate to title”. “Possession is control; title is ownership.”

Differentiating between who owns the data and who controls it, and subsequently may benefit from it, is a concept that is not often discussed by manufacturers at present.

Richard also noted that there is a growing recognition of the division between personal data and machine-generated data.

The aforementioned EU regulations apply to personal data, which would appear to allow companies operating in Europe to exploit machine-generated data via user agreements.

Contractual agreements

Looking forward, he said: “The common denominator in successful utilisation of machine data is well-crafted contractual language that both protects consumer interests and feeds a growing data eco-system.”

Quite how these often contradictory desires are to be reconciled will no doubt keep legal types busy for a long time yet.