Much existing regulation around data collection assumes that data will be used only for the purposes for which it was collected. However, one of the premises of open data is that data gathered to answer one set of questions might also be useful to a different set of actors with different objectives. For example, satellite data gathered for weather prediction, when opened and mixed with other data, can become part of an advice service to rural farmers on pest control (see Carolan et al., 2015).

However, where data has been collected from people and consent was given at the time of collection only for a particular purpose, using the data for other purposes is ethically questionable. Some experts are concerned that consent for the open use of data is not sought, or that, where it has been sought, the issue has not been fully understood. Survey data is of particular concern, especially when gathered from vulnerable rural populations, a demographic of particular concern for the Sustainable Development Goals.

The idea of consent is central to the idea of privacy (Cate, 2006) and is found in data protection policies that are seen as empowering individuals and allowing them to exercise control (Sinha & Mason, 2016). However, the latter authors argue that problems with implementing the principles of notice and informed consent may require a rethinking of the approach to individual control over personal data.  Privacy advocate Simon Davies (2015) describes the principle of consent as having been “corroded over the years through an array of public interest and economically pragmatic carve-outs”, and argues that it is becoming increasingly difficult to implement.

One area where this debate is apparent is the agriculture and nutrition sector. A smallholder rights advocate describes the situation as the “Wild West”, with few regulatory mechanisms in the generation, management, control and exploitation of data, “significant encroachments in property and privacy rights”, unethical practices and “robber baron tactics used in getting control and use of open data generated by communities… who technically and legally should own this data” (Maru, 2015).