During a virtual panel on data protection organized by Food Tank and the Refresh Working Group, experts discussed the ways that policies and community engagement can facilitate the fair use of data in the food system.
Moderated by Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg, and journalist Chloe Sorvino of Forbes, the event is part of a weeklong series about the intersection of food and technology. Panelists include: Kacey Hanson Program Manager, Department of Population Health at University of Texas Dell Medical School; Ali Lange Government Affairs & Public Policy – Privacy at Google; Matthew Lange, President and CEO of IC-FOODS; and Robyn O’Brien, Co-founder and Director of Partnerships for rePlant Capital.
Introducing the concept of data protection, Ali Lange helps to frame the conversation by explaining its importance. While people associate technology and data policy with companies like Google or internet providers, she says, they don’t always realize that it’s applicable to every industry.
The panelists note the many ways that technology is used in the food system today, from drones that help operate farms to data on community food security and nutritional health.
Ali Lange believes that changing this perception around technology and helping more people to safely use data can empower communities.
The use of data, however, raises a number of questions for the panelists. O’Brien and Matthew Lange, for example, wonder who owns the data that is produced, who has access to it, and how companies and other food system actors ultimately use it.
Not discouraged by the complexity of these issues, Ali Lange says, “All of these questions are fantastic questions, they’re difficult questions, but they’re not unanswerable questions.”
Matthew Lange believes that companies can begin to address some of these questions through agreements and policies. “We’re not spelling things out clearly right now, things are hidden in the fine print, and we don’t have standard models,” he tells Food Tank.
Ali Lange agrees, adding that while some companies may shy away from data protection laws, they can serve everybody’s best interests. “When you have these rules and you have these norms,” she says, “it actually enables and empowers you to use data because you actually have a better understanding of how to use it safely…and it empowers good actors to use data.”
In addition to these standards, Hanson and O’Brien stress the importance of collaboration.
“It’s going to take this consolidation of intellect, and wisdom, and expertise to make sure that what we build is truly regenerative and we aren’t actually building another model that’s enormously extractive on the backs of our farmers,” O’Brien tells Food Tank.
Through collaboration, Hanson explains, it is possible to build trust in the data itself and the companies that use it. Drawing on her community engagement techniques in the public health sector, she says, “There is trust that’s already there, but we tend to focus on where there’s lack of trust…Moving forward there has to be this constant building of trust, so people understand this is a relationship.”
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