The more data you share the better? An interview with start-up Otonomo
Technology and Business
Will consumers pay with their data to lower vehicle costs? In an exclusive interview, Ben Volkow, CEO of fast-growing start-up Otonomo, explains what new business models arise from connected driving – and how the recent Facebook scandal will affect this business.
Ben Volkow is a man with ambitions. "There is one simple rule with marketplaces all across the board — one takes 80 percent and the rest are left with 20,” he once told Bloomberg. “The way to become that one is to get as many cars on the platform as fast as possible and become dominant.” Volkow is CEO and co-founder of Otonomo, an Israeli start-up that specializes on collecting and selling car data. In our interview, Volkow displays extreme confidence in Otonomo’s business perspectives – but also reflects on the need for stricter regulation.
2025AD: How was the idea for Otonomo born?
Ben Volkow: I started a company called Traffix that was sold to F5 Networks. While I was at F5 managing a big data team, we had a request from BMW to help build a database of car data and I found myself having fascinating discussions learning about all the plans for connected cars. I saw that there was going to be a need to provide visibility into the data as well as for a gateway for the car data to many applications. That is how I was inspired to leave my job and start Otonomo.
2025AD: What’s your vision behind the company?
Volkow: As I dug in deeper, I discovered that the center console will become the next great consumer device. The car we choose to drive is an extension of ourselves – it is quite intimate. More and more connected cars are joining the road – Gartner estimates a quarter of a billion by 2020. These cars are full of sensors, generating up to 25 GB of data per hour, and autonomous vehicles produce far more: 4,000 GB per day! Big data is the oil that is fueling innovation on these systems. This big data presents a big opportunity, but the challenge is how OEMs and an emerging ecosystem of service providers can leverage this data to realize its full potential. Otonomo’s mission is to make automotive data as valuable as possible to drivers, passengers, and the entire transportation ecosystem. Our vision is to use data to make every driving experience truly rewarding.
2025AD: You promise to make the driving experience “safer, smarter and more convenient”. How so?
Volkow: Otonomo seeks to unlock the maximum value of connected cars and autonomous vehicles. There are so many possibilities, in the short term we expect this to manifest as predictive maintenance or improve convenience by helping to identify open parking spaces in a busy city. When you’re driving on a road trip, you might get information about your optimal route, your favorite restaurants in the area or the best places to refuel. We want the center console to be as user friendly and “sticky” as a smartphone screen – ideally while driving in a connected car, there should be no reason to look at your phone, and that is a safety benefit unto itself. Perhaps the most important use case is emergency services. The connected car, with automatic crash detection, can provide first responders with critical information, including the force of the impact, how many people are in the car, if they were wearing seatbelts, if the car rolled over, and if so, how many times. All of this can improve time of response and improve care. In an accident every second matters, and Otonomo helps make this data available instantly.As more intelligence enters the ecosystem, we will see accident avoidance solutions, or autonomous vehicles networked together, optimizing their routes to avoid traffic jams. We want to reach a point that if a developer can imagine it, they can build it with Otonomo.
2025AD: Can you describe how the data is collected and processed? What kind of data can Otonomo make use of?
Volkow: Every vehicle logs its data in different ways; Otonomo ingests automotive data from multiple sources and processes, normalizes, and enriches it to meet privacy and compliance requirements and to maximize its value. The Otonomo platform was built from the ground up to handle automotive data, addressing core needs such as data anonymization and normalization, security, market management, accounting, billing, privacy protection, regulatory compliance, and more. We consider Otonomo to be the Rosetta Stone of vehicle data; we are working to standardize this data from every sensor in every vehicle.
2025AD: Who are your clients? Can you name some use cases they have for your service?
Volkow: Otonomo has built a diverse ecosystem of over 75 partners, providing services such as vehicle preventive maintenance, public safety, parking/mapping, and other use cases. There are multiple use cases that Otonomo has observed emerging in the market today, all of which will have a profoundly positive impact on our lives. Preventative maintenance can help drivers and fleet managers. Smart cities can learn from our data, where potholes need to be patched, or where traffic is congested or to manage emissions. Local businesses can make personalized recommendations for relationship building with consumers. Eventually, machine learning may even train autonomous vehicles to operate more safely and efficiently.
2025AD: What new business models and options for consumers will arise once most cars on the road will be connected?
Volkow: As connected cars become the predominant form of vehicle on the road, and in fleets over the next several years, a new market is emerging for vehicle data and insights. At the same time, consumers are developing new awareness around the value of their data and how it can be used for good. Automotive OEMs and data providers have a convenient path to transform data they collect into beneficial services, including enhanced driver and passenger experiences, value-added services to differentiate offerings, data-driven decisions to improve core products and new and recurring revenue streams. With Otonomo’s scale and data valuation services, data providers can realize the highest possible revenue streams.
2025AD: How will the trend towards autonomous driving and shared mobility influence your business?
Volkow: Autonomous driving is a very exciting trend; it certainly feels like the biggest technological paradigm shift on the horizon, just like the advent of smartphones over the last decade or the widespread adoption of the Internet in the ‘90s. Autonomous vehicles will serve to drive our industry forward; once we transition to a world where we no longer have to focus on driving during our commute, then the center console will become more important than ever. Auto manufacturers will be working hard to keep consumers engaged with the center console during autonomous trips; the value of data will be in optimizing these experiences. Our business will evolve with this innovation and find new ways of using automotive data to benefit drivers and the transportation ecosystem.
2025AD: Many experts believe that mobility could become significantly cheaper for in the future customers if they are willing to pay with their data to allow for targeted advertising. What’s your stance on this?
Volkow: Certainly, drivers have the potential to realize more value from the data they own, both financial and otherwise. This could include a safer, more convenient on-road experience or personalized services, accessible while on the move, and ultimately this may even result in a lower vehicle cost of ownership. That said, the only way that this model will work is with driver consent, which we know how to manage and support.
2025AD: With the recent Facebook data scandal in full swing, there seems to be heightened public scrutiny on the issue of data privacy. Do car users have full control over the use of their personal data? Is the opt-in process transparent enough?
Volkow: The backlash against Facebook demonstrates that even if a company is transparent in how it uses its data, drivers will be unhappy if their data is used to unsavory ends. That is why Otonomo is so focused on “doing good” with this data. It is in the best interest of drivers to share their data because it helps contribute to overall public safety, generates economic growth, and builds the next generation of services for greater convenience and value. But this must be approached as an ally of the driver, with an understanding of the importance of privacy, consent and our individual rights.
2025AD: How does Otonomo ensure the data privacy of car users? How do you secure the data against criminal misuse, e.g. hacking?
Volkow: The Otonomo Platform employs a privacy-by-design approach, to protect both consumer and commercial interests, with granular controls over what data gets shared anonymously or associated with a vehicle. We’re committed to the security, privacy, and utility of the data we work with. By proactively supporting driver rights, Otonomo makes the data that they own more usable — and therefore more valuable to them. We also have designed an interface where drivers can control what apps and services can use their data and with any personalized app or service, the driver has to opt in.
2025AD: Does the stricter European legal framework constrain your business model? Do you hope for reforms?
Volkow: To the contrary, GDPR is as a great opportunity for us to help protect drivers and their data. Regulation over the explosive growth of connected cars and autonomous cars could be what helps to standardize it. Regulation is an acknowledgement that our industry is changing our world. All of these rules will help drive OEMs to commercialize the data they create – regulation is creating a foundation upon which for us to build. Otonomo is unlocking the potential of automotive data to ‘pave the road’ to a brighter and safer tomorrow.
ABOUT OUR EXPERT:
As founder and CEO of three successful companies, Ben brings an extensive track record and rich entrepreneurial experience. Prior to founding otonomo in 2015, Ben served for four years as a Business Unit General Manager at F5 Networks (NASDAQ:FFIV), which he joined after the acquisition of Traffix, where he was Co-Founder and as CEO. As the founder and CEO of Traffix, Ben has built a multi-million-dollar global business, working with partners and tier-1 service providers around the world. Before founding Traffix, Ben managed R&D groups in Sendo (UK), which provided advanced mobile data solutions. Prior to Sendo Ben has filled various roles in Panasonic Mobile Communications (UK), which included building their first European market products. Ben was also Co-founder of VC-backed Sedona Networks, a provider of advanced network solutions.
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