A vision for a cooperative mobility data union

By Shiv Malik


By Shiv Malik
A vision for a cooperative mobility data union

Ask anyone who works with consumer data and analytics, and they will confirm that their industry is facing an existential crisis. Tech monopolies teeter on the edge of public acceptance even as their information grab continues apace. Regulators are ready to hit back with anti-competitive measures, privacy laws and further rights to permit software users to port and control their data through open APIs. And in just over a year’s time, third party cookies - the information mainstay of consumer analytics for millions of websites and hundreds of analytics companies around the globe - will be blocked by the world’s largest internet browser Chrome.  

Those specialising in consumer data from the mobility industry are suffering even more. That longstanding vision of a smart city, powered by data sharing, common infrastructure and fully interoperable IoT devices, seems as far off as it has ever been. Vehicles, although computerised, even electrified, are not yet digitally native. They produce vast troves of information about their environment and their drivers, and yet that data remains largely siloed within cars themselves. So how does any of this get fixed?

Data Unions are coming. 

In the midst of this tumult, a new pattern of data sharing - Data Unions - have started solving the most fundamental of problems in the data economy - how to incentivize users of software to genuinely consent to sharing the information they create.

So what’s a data union? Well, instead of doing what most application owners do - obscure how user data is collected and quietly try to monetize that without their user's explicit knowledge - Data Unions simply ask their prospective members if they want to go into a partnership to share their data. Through an application like a mobile app, browser plugin or website, they then draw their members’ data into a pool of information which can be sold/ monetized etc. When those data sets are sold, both the Data Union Operators (DUOs) and their members get paid. Share and earn. Everyone benefits.

The remarkable thing is that data unions aren’t an abstract contempt. These new data sharing organisations - sometimes also called data trusts or data cooperatives, are already growing in terms of user adoption, coalition building, and investment. Web and mobile DUs like GeoDB, Panel App, Killi, Swash, TapMyData and MobileXpression already have millions of users between them earning income from filling in surveys, or permitting their browsing or location data to be read and monetized in a privacy protecting manner. More than this, European regulators have seized upon the idea of data unions and have drawn up regulation - The Data Governance Act - to encourage just this model of share and earn and have said they will allot €2bn in funding to help build this vision.

So could the data union idea work for mobility? Could a data sharing arrangement like a union involving vehicle owners and manufacturers, be the structure that unlocks a new mobility data economy?

For decades, the car industry has been telling drivers that when they sit in front of their steering wheel, they are in control. They own the road. Manufacturers can not now say consumers own their car, but not their data, most especially in this current climate around privacy. So if one thing is clear it is that vehicle owners must have as much control of their car’s data as they do their car’s steering wheel.

A mobility data union gets around that problem. Permission the data from your car, and work with the car companies to monetize that data and prosper from associated services. 

But there’s a problem here. And it’s at the other end of the spectrum. While a simple data union might work for car owners and manufacturers, does it work as a product offering? Even though numbering in tens of millions of trips per day, is data from just Ford vehicles, or just Honda vehicles, say, really leveraging value? Is that the data that the data buyers want? Would data from any cars regardless of manufacturer be far more optimal?

Perhaps there’s an even more ambitious step to take: a cooperative mobility Data Union in which several car companies get together to fund and own a single joint venture with a single leadership team. Cooperatives bring the benefits of having singular focus, whilst realising cooperation for mutual ends between parties that might otherwise be competitors. In this case the venture’s sole purpose will be to act as the Data Union Operator for tens of millions of their vehicle owners, unlocking billions in value on everyone’s behalf.  It’s a far more perfect fit than running a data union for each car company. 

If all this seems too far-fetched, then think again. It’s exactly this model that brought about Visa. Many multiple banks came together to own a single credit card prodiver. And in turn, all the stakeholders benefited.

So can the mobility industry come together, not just for its own benefit but for that of its consumers and a whole nascent ecosystem as well? Who knows. But there’s nothing like an epic crisis to provoke an opportunity of a lifetime.

First published on MOBI Dec 17th

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By Shiv Malik

Shiv Malik is the CEO of Pool, an infrastructure provider for Data Unions

By Shiv Malik