Startup wants to peek through the wired cameras in your home, sell the data

GotoCamera, a startup that provides online storage and software for web and Wi-Fi cams, is expanding its business

The little cameras in your home are multiplying. There are the ones you bought, perhaps your SLR or digital camera, but also those that just kind of show up in your current phone, your old phone, your laptop, your game console, and soon your TV and set-top box.

Varun Arora wants you to turn them all on.

The founder and CEO of GotoCamera in Singapore sees every such camera as an opportunity. The startup, which is attending this year's DEMO Asia conference in Singapore, provides software and online storage for capturing or streaming video, and says it now has 100,000 users.

Arora hopes that eventually he can convince his users to switch on the various cameras in their homes and let his company's algorithms analyze what they show, then sell the results as marketing data, in a sort of visual version of what Google and other firms do with search results and free email services.

"But video is another level of privacy for users," he said.

For now, his company makes money by charging manufacturers for offering its services with their products, or from users that upgrade to extra storage. Currently most such cameras are USB-driven, but a new wave of cheap Wi-Fi models are on the way, and manufacturers like Samsung and Panasonic are putting them into TVs and other devices, mainly for motion control and video conferencing.

"USB is a sunset industry" for cameras, Arora said. He showed off a tiny wireless camera from partner Trek 2000 International, about the size of a roll of film. It sells online for about US$65, and other manufacturers will soon launch for less than $50. Unlike USB models, Wi-Fi cameras don't need to be plugged into a computer or network, and usually just require a power source, which makes them ideal for security and monitoring.

As the prices of such devices fall, manufacturers will be squeezed, and GotoCamera proposes to provide a portion of the online fees it receives back to them, a rare ongoing revenue stream he compares to disposable blades for shaving razors, that must be continually purchased.

"What we say to them is, 'Please accept that you're a commodity, and let us bring the Gillette model to you,'" Arora said.

Currently only about one percent of users subscribe to the company's paid service, which costs US$40 per year for a gigabyte of storage versus 50 MB for the free version, but Arora thinks that can climb to 50 percent as more people buy cameras specifically for security or monitoring.

GotoCamera, which was founded in 2008, now has five staff and is actively looking for more developers. It has partnered with camera makers like Creative and is in talks with ISPs (Internet service providers) and set-top box makers, and Arora said it will break even next year.

One of the principal producers of DEMO Asia is IDG Enterprise, a subsidiary of International Data Group (IDG), which also owns the IDG News Service.

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