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Smart Grid Could Pose Threat To Privacy

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the lets-take-a-look dept.

Power 297

Presto Vivace writes "Brian Krebs of the Washington Post reports on a study jointly released Tuesday by the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Future of Privacy Forum. It seems that in the process of collecting all that feedback about energy use, utility companies will inevitably collect a great deal of information about us. From the article: 'Instead of measuring energy use at the end of each billing period, smart meters will provide this information at much shorter intervals, the report notes. Even if electricity use is not recorded minute by minute, or at the appliance level, information may be gleaned from ongoing monitoring of electricity consumption such as the approximate number of occupants, when they are present, as well as when they are awake or asleep. For many, this will resonate as a "sanctity of the home" issue, where such intimate details of daily life should not be accessible.'"

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297 comments

That's why I leave everything on all the time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30151792)

It'll mask my activities!

Re:That's why I leave everything on all the time (1, Insightful)

whitedsepdivine (1491991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152096)

It'll mask my activities!

Look Judge my house was drawing 2000 watts of power between the hours of 9-10. I couldn't have raped those little kids.

Kyllo (4, Interesting)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151806)

Reminds me of Kyllo v. United States

Cops used a thermal imager pointed at a guy's house (from their patrol car across the street).

They then use that as evidence to go bust the guy for marijuana.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyllo_v._United_States [wikipedia.org]

SCOTUS threw out his conviction because the cops violated his 4th amendment rights.

I would think that the use of electricity usage data should play out the same way, but who knows!

Re:Kyllo (2, Insightful)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151848)

If I had a crooked friend at the power company, he could tell me when someone in a house I want to rob usually goes to work and also when they do so on a given day.

Re:Kyllo (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30151938)

If I had a crooked friend at the power company, he could tell me when someone in a house I want to rob usually goes to work and also when they do so on a given day.

...or a crooked friend at targets place of work tells you when they get in or the low tech method of who's home by simply driving by and see if a car is parked in driveway... wait... that's possible now w/out a smart grid..... oooh nooo's! I NEED TO GET HOooome NOW!

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152038)

Driving by the house one time is a lot different than being given access to logs over an extended period of time and being able to notice behavioral patterns. How many times a day are you going to be able to drive by without looking suspicious? Pretty scary when you're thinking in terms of a house being robbed, but fucking nightmare level spooky when you think about the possibility of a large company being attacked.

Re:Kyllo (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152192)

Just get a Crown Victoria painted in your local police colors, or rent a boom truck and install your own web cam on a convenient utility pole.

Re:Kyllo (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152246)

Assuming your local police use Crown Vics.

My brother has a white ex-cop Crown Vic, and it's extremely interesting how much attention such a car draws and how it affects the behavior of other drivers. People spend quite a bit of time sizing you up even as you leave the car, trying to assess whether you might be an undercover cop or something.

If you seek attention, an ex-cop car gets way more of it while costing way less than something like a Corvette.

Re:Kyllo (1)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152436)

Do you think?

What you do is get a real Luxury boat - like a Merc Grand Marqis, with all the limo fittings. Then remove badges and attach the bog-ugly matte grille and bumper bars. It doesn't even need to say "Interceptor" on it.

BTW.
Do you think the Buttles, and other inhabitants of Brazil even imagined that they lived in a police state? Of course, not! Nor do those with whom we work and dine.

Re:Kyllo (1)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152518)

The idea here is to NOT be conspicuous. I'm rather sure that attempting to impersonate a police officer would attract about as much attention as a van labeled Flowers By Irene parked outside 24-7.

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152310)

Not just a large company being attacked, but being able to put together pieces of data not just on the large company, but on their employees. Then, if the corporate HQ isn't hardened against attack, it wouldn't be hard to compromise one of the people there (extortion, or just a simple home invasion to grab corporate IDs and credentials).

The only way I can see this can be allievated is to have something that stores power like a large UPS or battery array. This would be timed to charge up at random intervals, and be large enough to handle the power spikes of a residence or business.

Re:Kyllo (1)

whitedsepdivine (1491991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151996)

If crooked friend at nobel prize committee, I would have them give you an award for how much of a true genius you are. Why not try a better industry to have crooked friends in. Your Child's School, Home Security, GPS, Court System, Police

Re:Kyllo (1)

Tynin (634655) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151914)

I don't think anyone would be subject to a search warrant over electrical usage (I'd like to hope). You'd never be able to tell if someone was using a kilo watt of power to run grow lights, or to power and run a heat element on an electric oven range. I guess that is a bad example since the oven would only be on for a little bit whereas the lights would be always on, but the same principle applies. You'd have so much noise with various things plugged in using in some cases fluctuating amounts of power, it would be hard to get much of a signal that would conclusively point to some illegal activity. I really don't think Kyllo vs US is a good reference in this case, although they do have some overlap.

Re:Kyllo (1)

db32 (862117) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151948)

Well of course not, that is why they have rules that allow them to listen in on your phone and email just because you have a funny name.
In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if they use this to determine which houses to watch at night because crime usually happens at night, so houses that are active at night are more likely to be engaged in illegal drug sales/use/etc or whatever other idiot shit reason they come up with.

Making use of public electric use data (1)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152174)

Our power company has a Web site -- enter an address, badda boom, badda bing, get the household electric use.

Maybe a person with illegal growing in mind could canvas the neighborhood, find out the upper bound from the normal "wasteful" electric use, and then "fly under the radar" and only grow subject to that cap on electric use.

On the other hand, maybe all of the folks with big electric bills are growing?

Re:Making use of public electric use data (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152414)

Maybe a person with illegal growing in mind could canvas the neighborhood, find out the upper bound from the normal "wasteful" electric use, and then "fly under the radar" and only grow subject to that cap on electric use.
Or they could just steal the electricity....

Re:Making use of public electric use data (3, Insightful)

jroysdon (201893) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152514)

It's rather easy to find stolen electricity. Total the usage of the meters in an area vs. how much power was used there. If there is a difference of more than the reasonable margin of error, they have ways to isolate where this is very easy (especially since the thieves are constantly using).

With SmartMeters, stealing electricity will be virtually impossible. Within minutes theft of power is spotted and a truck roll can be sent out within the next day (if not sooner) if it continues.

Re:Kyllo (3, Interesting)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152188)

Hopefully U.S. anti-marijuana laws will be declared unconstitutional (where was Congress given authority to completely ban a naturally-growing plant?) before this Smart Grid is implemented, and then it won't matter if you are using grow lights or not.

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152316)

That's quite a lot of hope you have there.

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152406)

Even if they legalize it, it will still be taxed and if it's taxed people will still be growing it illegally. However, I'd like to think the government has better things to do.

Re:Kyllo (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152626)

Hopefully U.S. anti-marijuana laws will be declared unconstitutional...

The constitution is only a piece of paper. I hear a lot of rhetoric about rule of law and not of men, but it always boils down to a group of powerful people allowing just enough freedom to others to do as they tell you. That currently means beating and imprisoning you to protect you from that naturally growing plant. So, for the sake of your well being, light up a government sanctioned cigarette and down a bottle of tax revenue providing bourbon.

Alberta Court of Appeal disagreed with you (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152220)

http://www.law.ualberta.ca/centres/ccs/news/?id=332 [ualberta.ca]

"The Drug Unit asked Enmax, the local electricity provider, to install a digital recording ammeter (DRA) to record power consumption in Gomboc’s house. Enmax complied without insisting on a warrant. After five days, Enmax gave the police a graph that showed Gomboc’s use of electricity was consistent with running a grow operation. [...] At trial, the Crown conceded that police could not have obtained a search warrant without the data from Enmax."

So, at least in Canada, not only has someone already been subject to a search warrant over electrical usage but the appeals court has ruled it is legal to base a search warrant on someone's electrical usage.

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152672)

I don't think anyone would be subject to a search warrant over electrical usage

Unfortunately, it's already happening in many cities in the US. I'm too lazy to look up others, but here [austinchronicle.com] is an article about Austin's little known data mining program.

Re:Kyllo (4, Informative)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151940)

I would think that the use of electricity usage data should play out the same way, but who knows!

I knows!
Granting warrants for excessive electricity use is routine in the USA.

Here's one from 2004: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0330044pot1.html [thesmokinggun.com]
Here's one from 2009: http://hamptonroads.com/node/510056 [hamptonroads.com]

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152176)

Wow. Reading that first one from 2004 seems to indicate that the officer involved must have been shown Reefer Madness as a training film at the police academy. Further he appears to have been told "When writing your affidavit for a search warrant you should strive to make it sound as lurid as the stories in the True Crime Detective magazines you incessantly masturbate to."

He wants to search for 'controlled substances, including but not limited to marijuana, also known as "Weed", "grass", "the Devil's weed" and "Smoke"'.

What a buffoon.

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152730)

It sounds like he's just covering all his bases, and it's just boilerplate cop-legalese. His list keeps going on and on.

Re:Kyllo (5, Interesting)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152236)

"Eight armed narcs raided the Dagy home on March 19 and found absolutely nothing. No evidence of pot anywhere, not even stashed in the children's toys. Seems that the coppers mistook the family's constant use of the dishwasher, washer/dryer, three computers, four ceiling fans, and other electronic devices as evidence of a felony drug operation. Oops. The Dagys--Mom's a homemaker and Dad's a general manager of 21 Shell stations--would like an apology from the Carlsbad Police Department. Sadly, we'd recommend that the Dagys not hold their collective breath."

I hate drug cops and homeland security. They keep performing these heinous searches and "eating out the substance" of our citizens

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152014)

That's why now they use some other BS but acceptable reason to get a warrant (ie: informant, "smelled something", etc.) when they notice something with a thermal imager. I'm sure they'll do the same for electricity usage if it proved judge unfriendly on it's own.

Re:Kyllo (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152166)

SCOTUS threw out his conviction because the cops violated his 4th amendment rights. I would think that the use of electricity usage data should play out the same way, but who knows! /quote>Hey Glenn Beck!

Is dat u?

;-)

Re:Kyllo (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152252)

That's the right way to deal with this, technical measures are pointless because the police will always be able to get that info (with current tech 3 40w bulbs give a noticeably different pastern), making it useless without a warrant is what's key, some sort of guaranteed anonymization of the data would be nice too (because while the electricity company need long term statistics so they can shame their supply to demand, they don't need YOUR long term stats).

Re:Kyllo (1)

johanatan (1159309) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152702)

need long term statistics so they can shame their supply to demand

How'd they figure out how to shame supply to demand? That must be a very valuable, patentable business process. I hope they've already applied for the patent.

Re:Kyllo (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152390)

It should be a 4th amendment issue, but it is not.

If your power use suddenly spikes, expect the cops at your door to ask about what you're doing. Had this happen in college when a roommate setup a bunch of tropical fish tanks.

Re:Kyllo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152476)

Except the fourth amendment doesn't apply in Ontario.

Re:Kyllo (-1, Offtopic)

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Re:Kyllo (1)

jasonwc (939262) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152658)

Well, the problem is that the 4th Amendment doesn't apply at all in this situation. There is no state action. The 4th Amendment protects against encroachment by the federal government, and by incorporation via the 14th Amendment, also provides protection against state and local government actions.

However, the conduct here is being done by a private entity. In addition, they will almost certainly have consent to collect the information as part of the long form contracts you're required to sign to use their service. While the contracts can be attacked on grounds of adhesiveness and unfair surprise, the 4th Amendment simply does not apply.

The information is not being collected by the police for the purposes of an adversarial proceeding. If the police were collecting this information without your consent, there might be an issue. That's not to say federal or state privacy laws may not be applicable. However, the 4th Amendment certainly is not.

Oh no (1, Troll)

pookemon (909195) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151826)

The power company will be able to determine that I sleep at night and I'm not home during the day.

Or maybe I'm not home at night and I sleep during the day.

And that there is 6 people living in the house, or that when I use power I use inefficient appliances.

Or I have 12 ppl living in the house with efficient appliances.

Personally - I really don't care what kind of dodgy information they could gleen from a smart meter. I only really care about the fact that power could (or will here in Oz) cost more.

Re:Oh no (4, Insightful)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151874)

Personally - I really don't care what kind of dodgy information they could gleen from a smart meter. I only really care about the fact that power could (or will here in Oz) cost more.

Actually, I wouldn't have ANY problem at all paying a little extra for these meters (also here in Aus) if they used the data gathered to make a more efficient energy grid and this in turn helped us reduce emissions and made us more environmentally friendly. I would have very big problems with this if it was used to simply line the pockets of companies while not changing or improving in any other way.

Re:Oh no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30151896)

Don't worry. If the power prices in Oz cost more, just click your heels together and say, "There's no place like Ohm." That should reduce the impedance in getting your power at a better rate since E=IR.

Re:Oh no (2, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151906)

Personally - I really don't care what kind of dodgy information they could gleen from a smart meter. I only really care about the fact that power could (or will here in Oz) cost more.

Or that nobody has been home for a couple of days so you are probably on vacation and your home would be a good target for robbery! Yeah, that's worth saving a few bucks a month on electricity.

yet people put that info on facebook (3, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152182)

Or leave a note on the door for the milkman.

Or maybe the mail piling up is a sign.

Why is it that guys like you claim the whole counter-terrorism thing is a way for the goverment to scare people, when you scare yourself far better? Watch out, I can track your /. account and tell when you are on holiday.

Re:yet people put that info on facebook (2, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152230)

The difference is that all of your examples are under the control of the potential victim.
They chose to put it on facebook.
They chose to 'leave a note on the door' instead of directly telling 'the milkman' (lol! at that bs)
They chose to not have a neighbor pick up their mail.

Why is it that guys like you claim the whole counter-terrorism thing

Uh, you've got your wires crossed, this is about efficient electric meters, ain't no counter-terrorism under discussion here.
Which should be a big fucking clue to you that there is a common principle that transcends specific justifications.

Re:yet people put that info on facebook (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152308)

I go to /. on holidays, you insensitive clod!

And by the way, none of that would work. I don't have a milkman, and I trust a neighbor with my mail key, so she gets my mail when I'm on holiday. Oh, and I have one if those "timer electric sockets" (or whatever they're called in the US) to turn on some lights and stereo at random but sane periods at night, it cost me 10.

Re:yet people put that info on facebook (2, Funny)

psithurism (1642461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152552)

I can track your /. account and tell when you are on holiday.

This an automated Slashdot-bot to prevent you from discovering when this account is inactive. Posting triggered by phrase "track /."

Re:Oh no (2, Insightful)

jibjibjib (889679) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152232)

Add up those few bucks a month for a year. Also maybe take into account the benefit to society (and thus to you) from improved grid efficiency and fewer blackouts

Now take the value of stuff you'd lose in a robbery. Multiply that by the probability that someone will steal your electricity usage data and use it to rob your house in the same year.

I'd be pretty surprised if the expected cost of this extremely unlikely hypothetical robbery makes smart meters not worthwhile.

Re:Oh no (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152266)

I'd be pretty surprised if the expected cost of this extremely unlikely hypothetical robbery makes smart meters not worthwhile.

The problem with your math is that the only thing you are accounting for as a cost is something I thought of in 10 seconds.
Give the criminals a couple of years to think about the system and you can be sure that there will be a lot more exploits.

Nevermind the fact that deliberately ceding control of yet more private information to the state is yet another encroachment of big brother.

Re:Oh no (3, Insightful)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152334)

Honestly, what are the chances that someone from the electric company is going to monitor your house, waiting to rob it? OK, now how much greater are they with this smart meter? If I worked at the electric company, and I wanted to rob your house, all I'd need is your address, and I could physically monitor your house to see when you're on vacation.

In fact, this kind of reminds me of the xkcd comic:

http://xkcd.com/538/ [xkcd.com]

Re:Oh no (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152768)

If I worked at the electric company, and I wanted to rob your house, all I'd need is your address, and I could physically monitor your house to see when you're on vacation.

The difference here is that while you present the case where the burglar targets a specific individual, going through the trouble of watching the house for long periods...

...the collection of this data allows them to target whoever is convenient today because now they have access to the data from equipment installed to watch everyones houses for long periods.

Re:Oh no (3, Insightful)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151966)

Yeah, it's never too much of a problem until it affects you.

What if you live in an apartment and have a friend or family member come stay with you for an extended period of time and you suddenly get charged an occupant violation fee because your utilities are being monitored by the complex manager? Seeing at how gung-ho about fines the complex I just moved from is, I don't see that being too far-fetched of a scenario, especially if your utilities are included in your rent.

Re:Oh no (2, Interesting)

Btarlinian (922732) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152570)

Yeah, it's never too much of a problem until it affects you. What if you live in an apartment and have a friend or family member come stay with you for an extended period of time and you suddenly get charged an occupant violation fee because your utilities are being monitored by the complex manager? Seeing at how gung-ho about fines the complex I just moved from is, I don't see that being too far-fetched of a scenario, especially if your utilities are included in your rent.

You violate the terms of your lease and you are fined. What's your point here?

Re:Oh no (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152650)

You're a moron. The contract YOU SIGNED with the management company spells out the rules for additional occupancy. Explain to me why you find it so alarming that they are holding you to that contract?

Re:Oh no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152674)

But wouldn't an "occupant violation fee" be appropriate because you had an extra occupant? So the problem is that by monitoring your power usage, the complex could enforce the terms of your lease more effectively?

Re:Oh no (1)

iamhigh (1252742) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152692)

You mean the fee that is stated in the lease you signed? It probably also has a clause that they can kick you out. There are reasons for this stuff. More people means more frequent trash pickups, higher insurance payments (probably stated in their policy that they must report accurately, or be fined), more parking used, plus they have no idea who is there (sex offender, guy who's trashed a dozen apartments, etc). I am not trying to say this isn't an issue, but crying foul because you want to avoid the $50 application fee doesn't seem like a strong position. Really the same goes for growing weed, which is why they have been allowed to use warrents for these type of "searches". "Monitoring" as you say, would be a much bigger issue. But focused searches granted with some valid concern would seem in line with our current policies, right or wrong.

Re:Oh no (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152000)

The power company will be able to determine that I sleep at night and I'm not home during the day.

And now the -rest- of us know exactly when the best time to kill you in your sleep would be, since you broadcast it on slashdot.

Or maybe I'm not home at night and I sleep during the day.

Curses! Foiled again!

Re:Oh no (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152394)

I only really care about the fact that power could (or will here in Oz) cost more.

Out-smart them, be "green" in the same time: build yourself an "energy buffer" (accumulators), fill it full in "off-peak" hours (usually at night), feed the energy back (or use it) at peak times.
An example of peak/off-peak tarrifs [truenergy.com.au]
If you leave in ACT (you lucky b... ;) ) and afford to install a solar panel, you may even get a profit from the use of the buffer (note: would be unethical/immoral, don't know how legal, to mis-present the energy you are feeding back in as being produced by your solar panel, but the fact is ACT is the only state [beaconlighting.com.au] which pays the gross feed-in at preferential price).

Secondary effect: they won't be able to profile your energy consumption (so the most paranoid of us can sleep better... if and whatever time we choose to sleep).

The only difference (3, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151888)

The only difference in my at home power usage vs my away power usage is basically a cfl and a TV. I presume that would be drowned out by the AC cycling, the fridge cycling, various fluctuating draws from computers doing updates and interfacing with the internet (ingoing and outgoing, 24/7), etc.

Re:The only difference (1)

imamac (1083405) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151932)

Except that even those (A/C and Fridge) will use less power when you're not there. No opening the refrigerator/house door means fewer cycles for the refrigerator and A/C.

Re:The only difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152004)

Actually, the AC will use more energy during the day, regardless of your presence. You see, there's this big ball of fire. You can always turn off the AC, or allow the house to warm up, but GP didn't provide any indication of that. So, his AC will use more power during the day.

Re:The only difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152140)

You sound just like software developers who don't believe that there are major security holes in their code until someone exploits them. "There's no way to exploit that feature really, since it's only bla bla bla..." And then "oops!"

Re:The only difference (5, Insightful)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152388)

Which is why we should err on the side of caution. People saying this isn't a big deal are considering one or two simple scenarios and deciding on just that basis. It's just as possible that someone will figure out a maximal way to exploit this particular data, one that affects a great many people and has more serious consequences.
      When people first became concerned over medical records privacy, DNA testing was still so expensive that it wasn't used by any state law enforcement, even in rape or murder cases. The federal government was the only entity likely to pay for full testing, and at that time was only interested in using the tests in a handful of cases such as possibly identifying deceased heads of state after explosive assassinations. People argued about what could go wrong if the wrong people got access to medical records, and every time someone brought up the DNA testing aspects, they were told "That's not a realistic scenario - no crook is going to spend millions of dollars to match DNA samples to these records". The US began changing its medical records laws with the idea that those laws didn't need to consider DNA issues, and the resulting laws were dated by the time they were ratified. We're seeing cracks in them now, as they weren't designed to take testing cheap enough that insurance companies might opt to use it routinely, into account.
      Arguing that detailed power usage isn't that significant an information source, as it can't be used to cause serious harm, (for the poster's definition of serious), is spurious. All anyone can really honestly claim is "I have thought a bit, and I haven't come up with a misuse I think is practical and that is all that bad, yet.". That's different from "I've thought about it enough, and I've identified all the misuses possible, I know for certain which ones are implementable even by a serious, well trained and dedicated entity with tremendous resources, and this is safe."

Re:The only difference (4, Interesting)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152146)

It's actually rather amazing how much data you can get from monitoring this sort of thing. For example, I used to track the CPU temperature of my computer. From looking at fluctuations in the graph, I could tell when when the furnace was running, when I entered and left the room, when the ceiling light was on, and so forth. I'm sure you could do the same thing with electricity usage: a spike of X watts represents the refridgerator, a shift of Y watts is the bathroom lights, etc.

So leave the lights on all the time. (0, Flamebait)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151908)

n/t

Re:So leave the lights on all the time. (2, Insightful)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151982)

Or, more practically, use nighttime power to charge up your ultracapacitor (those will be coming out in full force shortly), which you will then use during the day. It's cost effective and privacy effective.

Just do what I do on Halloween (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30151920)

I turn off all the lights and hide in the basement. Then I use the light from my Nintendo GameBoy DS to play with my cat
Seriously...this is just a minor blip in privacy. Pretty soon everyone's going to have (at least) some solar cells and batteries so the electricity generation AND usage will be completely on site and nobody will know.
600W Solar Cells are available for a couple of hundred dollars... an inverter for another $100... a couple of deep cycle marine batteries... hell for $1000, you can get half your house off the grid in a sunny location. DO IT. NOW.

Re:Just do what I do on Halloween (2, Insightful)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152240)

Where can I buy 600W solar cells for 200.00?

You can't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152536)

(different AC here) I bet that is a typo, try a 60 watter for that sort of money. You also need a charge controller for a good rig.

Inevitable (2, Insightful)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 4 years ago | (#30151988)

We must decide... Will we remain Luddites or join the hive mind? Attempting to both leverage technology and leverage privacy is an exercise in futility. Those choosing to straddle the fence rather than embracing one or the other will eventually find that someone else has already decided for them.

Re:Inevitable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152128)

I really don't see how this is a privacy issue. There is no use of this technology that is not better done with "lower tech" solutions (like driving by and looking for lights on/car in the parking lot).

Re:Inevitable (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152428)

If you sample power consumption several times an hour, 24 hours a day, for weeks, you have almost precisely zero chance of it being noticed. One person can do it, letting automation collect the data. It would be worth doing for a rather petty goal, as it costs you almost nothing. If you drive through a residential neighborhood several times an hour, 24 hours a day, for several weeks you have a very high chance someone will notice, and you need multiple accomplices to get some sleep, plus quite a bit of cash outlay. How is your 'lower tech' solution better again?

Re:Inevitable (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152374)

Technology is for empowering the individual, subservience to a hive mind is the lie of the enslaver. The greatest evils of the 20th century were spawned from a herd mentality.

Not needed (2, Insightful)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152022)

What they need to do is broadcast the present price of electricity and have the meter bill accordingly. Then get the total bill every month. This enables the "consumer" to regulate their usage to reduce cost (smoothing usage as the utilities want). It also avoids the need for large amounts of data sent back. There are usually simple solutions, and the fact that companies don't use the simple solutions generally points to an agenda other than what is claimed.

Re:Not needed (1)

coaxial (28297) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152350)

It's not a large amount of data. It's just the current demand at that instance. In order for customers to be able to regulate (i.e. shift) demand, they need to know when the power was needed and what price it was charged. Simply saying "You owe us $x," doesn't really give you enough information to shift demand effectively. Receiving a simple total, like you proposed, is exactly what we have now.

The smart grid off peak scheduling tricks have always relied on customer controlled technology. The idea was always to have the real smarts being in every appliance in the home. The smart meter would inform the appliances what the current price of electricity was, and your refrigerator would decide whether or not to cycle for a particular hour based on that information.

Even the big bad profiling of the different appliances would be useful. I'd like to know that my refrigerator or air conditioner is costing me $x, and that if I upgraded to a smarter and more efficient model, my costs would go down to $y. Right now it's guess work.

Re:Not needed (1)

Mateorabi (108522) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152504)

You could just hook a Kill-O-Watt to them for a few days and take the average consumption.

Re:Not needed (1)

coaxial (28297) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152564)

True, but if you want to seriously impact demand, you have to inform and encourage people at scale. Depending on everyone to step up and do this on their own, just doesn't work to practice.

Re:Not needed (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152604)

A "smart meter" such as you describe could belong to and be controlled by the customer. It would just need access to the current price. Such meters could be deployed right now with no need for new regulations or investment by utility companies.

Won't happen, of course.

That's why... (0, Troll)

Jason Pollock (45537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152032)

I run my house off of batteries and charge them using off-peak, cheap power.

Oh wait, my usage pattern indicates I've got some large, expensive batteries!

Back to the drawing board.

NEWSFLASH! (3, Insightful)

That's Unpossible! (722232) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152052)

Anything that is internet-connected and useful poses a threat to your privacy. Period.

I am willing to accept that trade-off, especially since 95% of the privacy stories on YRO are overblown.

Oh no, the power company can determine my peak power usage. They can determine that I leave in the morning and get home at night.

In exchange, the smart grid promises some big benefits. As usual, a trade-off.

Re:NEWSFLASH! (1)

SirAstral (1349985) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152354)

Everything starts somewhere.

We rode horses before we rode in cars.
We rode in cars before we rode in planes.
We rode in planes before we rode in rockets to space.

One interesting story about cars is license plates. The first idea for license plates on cars where to actually use the owners names! There were 2 reasons they decided to provide mixed/randomized ID's. 1 reason was to provide everyone with some safety and security. Would not be so cool if you pissed off a fellow commuter and because your license plate said your name they tracked you down and slashed your tires because they where angry. Another BIG reason was to also make it difficult for the police to identify you instantly. Now, with technology that can scan your plate, and extract "Insurance, Name of Owner, and Address" all in a flash!

I wonder what tune you will be singing if the government decides to use this technology to "Ration" your energy usage?

There is Government and there are citizens. One or the other will be wearing the hand cuffs! Do you want to put them on the government or do you want to wear them yourself? Someone is ALWAYS at the controls and you can either let technology work for you in a manor that you get to control or you can let the government control you with it.

Re:NEWSFLASH! (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152628)

Really, they can glean a whole lot more information, and it may not be information they should be gleaning. You thought that affair was a private matter, but they figured out that there was an extra person in the house; this might be used against you (e.g. as the auto companies tried to send women after Ralph Nader to create a scandal).

There should be explicit privacy built into the smart grid. Oh well, not enough people care.

Re:NEWSFLASH! (4, Insightful)

Mr_Plattz (1589701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152752)

I don't think the problem here is the ELECTRICITY COMPANY knowing when you "leave in the morning and get home at night".

I think Token Criminal who is working with some hackers in Russia gaining access to these INTERNET CONNECTED Smart Grids is the real problem.

It's easy to accept "trade-offs" when you don't understand an entire scenario.

My CA townhouse got "smartmetered" last week. (5, Informative)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152136)

PG&E is using (for electricity) a GE I-120 smartmeter with a Silver Spring Networks interface. (Installer said they plan to install the associated network on the poles shortly, after which no more meter readers wandering the neighborhood.)

According to the meter's description on GE's site it uses IP and "industry standard crypto" over a two way radio link to a network running their software. It can be remotely tweaked and have software upgrades remotely loaded. (I can hear the cypherpunks booting up already.)

It records and reports high-time-resolution information about the utility use. It can be used to shut the power off in case of "billing trouble". It doesn't do net metering. Instead it treats backfeeding the net as a sign of cheating - an old mechanical-meter hack consisting of unplugging and inverting the meter to "run it backward" a few days per month. (It records the events around the reversal - unplug, replug-inverted, unplug, replug-normal - with high time resolution, to be used as evidence if it goes to court.)

If you want to do net metering once this is installed you have to get the power company to come out again and install another meter, set up for "two-way metering".

Ah, yes, "billing trouble," the old euphemism (2, Insightful)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152384)

for PEBKAC.

In the days of mechanical telephone switches, the telco swore up and down that my mother hadn't paid the bill. When they sent out the guy to carry out the disconnect order, he said she could make one last phone call. She showed him the canceled check and told him he could make it to his boss, or he could disconnect the phone and never show his face on the property again. He said sorry, lady, I got my orders.

The Nuremberg trials invalidated that excuse. (Aaaaand Godwin's Law is validated for this thread)

They tried to make nice later. Mom told them to leave, or face criminal trespass charges. And for the next 16 years, we made do with no telephone. Mom and Dad finally relented, post-Bell breakup, when we had two elderly grandparents who were taking turns being ill.

Now, four carrier buy-outs later, my parents are having "billing trouble" again while the new system owners figure out what the hell they're doing.

Re:My CA townhouse got "smartmetered" last week. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152488)

They actually use native IPv6 with IPSEC for all of the Smart Meters on their own private wireless and fiber backbones. For some of the nodes that cannot use local wireless reach a substation (remote, non-urban areas), they use VZN's cellular network, with IPv6 encapsulated in IPv4 to the SSN network container where it comes out IPv6 to talk to the rest of the infrastructure.

However, PG&E doesn't host any of the infrastructure, they outsource it all to Silver Springs. So, not only does PG&E have all this info on you, so does SSN.

All utilities to date, except for mine, outsource the data warehousing to SSN. I worked on the implementation of my local utility (doing the fiber to all the substations for this AMI network), and my utility was SSN's first customer who was going to not use them for hosting it all.

While utilities can monitoring you down to the many times per minute (I don't recall the stats, perhaps as often as a second), they don't have room to store that much data. All they really need is to get is the data at the time the rate changes (morning, evening, night, whatever). However, all of that can be buffered in the meter for a good long time (it's just a bunch of numbers and timestamps anyway).

Someone wanting to know what was going on at your house would be better to watch the internet there and your credit/debit cards purchases.

It's gonna be a while. (3, Insightful)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152222)

Smart grid is really needed to provide the ability to support electric cars without taking out the power system, and to provide peak-demand load management for people who use power at peak times (ie. businesses, during the day). People aren't going to run washing machines at 2AM in the summertime to avoid a $0.50 fee and get smelly clothes since nobody will be around to flip the laundry into the dryer.

The problem at the residential level is that other than the electric cars that nobody wants there is minimal value to shifting residential power demand for most people -- their demand is at night, since there aren't many housewives hanging out at home anymore. From what I've read, energy usage isn't the problem -- the problem is providing sufficient power during periods of peak demand. Additionally, many, many places don't have the necessary last-mile power infrastructure to handle the electric cars that are supposedly going to drive increased consumer demand.

Plus, nobody has plugin electric cars, and the excessive costs will keep it that way. Why would you buy a $40,000 car that is similar to a compact car and requires upgrading your home electrical system to own? Just buy a diesel Jetta, which has a far lower TCO. Hell, hybrid diesel-electric cars are probably more practical.

Upgrading the infrastructure of every side street in every city is going to cost billions and take years. And it will meet resistance -- residential neighborhoods with trees and overhead lines will find the new supply lines also mean that the utility company will eviscerate every tree.

Re:It's gonna be a while. (3, Insightful)

loshwomp (468955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152634)

People aren't going to run washing machines at 2AM in the summertime to avoid a $0.50 fee

I often run mine at night, but for other reasons -- your quote betrays your ignorance of the subject matter. A typical efficient washer uses about 100 watt-hours per load. The absolute cost of that would be a few cents US, and the marginal cost of operating that machine during peak hours would be far less than that.

since nobody will be around to flip the laundry into the dryer

Into the what?? You still waste energy on those? In the Summer?!? During the day? Suckers like you are who's buying my peak-rate photovoltaic solar generation. Keep it up!

Additionally, many, many places don't have the necessary last-mile power infrastructure to handle the electric cars that are supposedly going to drive increased consumer demand.

Not sure where you got on the anti electric vehicle thing, but you're missing the point of a "smarter" grid. Regardless of the nature of the generation technology or the load, a smarter grid with managed loads will utilize the grid more efficiently.

Just buy a diesel Jetta, which has a far lower TCO

As long as you externalize the cost of particulate pollution, global warming, lung disease, and foreign wars to acquire "cheap" oil. Sounds great.

Hell, hybrid diesel-electric cars are probably more practical.

Starting sentences with "Hell, comma" makes you look like a high school student.

Oh bullshit (2, Informative)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152234)

Just use an uninterrupted power supply system. It can be built to draw current only when the batteries are low, and that can be programmed in, so that the actual draw of electricity is orthogonal to the use of the electricity. Think kind of like a Prius.

bunch of arm-waving idiocy.

Re:Oh bullshit (1)

robinesque (977170) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152438)

Just use an uninterrupted power supply system. It can be built to draw current only when the batteries are low, and that can be programmed in, so that the actual draw of electricity is orthogonal to the use of the electricity. Think kind of like a Prius.

This sounds like an energy-efficient design. Some else suggested a capacitor--that wouldn't be so bad, I suppose.

Re:Oh bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152690)

So go from A/C -> D/C -> A/C again just to avoid snooping. Any ideas on the loss for those conversions?

Information Age (3, Insightful)

Kelzar (1642061) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152244)

I think we're going to have to accept that a number of entities are going to have all kinds of information about us. One potential solution is to create meaningful regulations that balance individual interests/rights against those of corporate entities (corporate in the broadest sense, inc. state entities). Perhaps something along the lines of the confidentiality that exists between an individual and various professionals/clergymen.

Re:Information Age (1)

symbolic (11752) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152586)

Meaningful regulations, and meaningless aberrations. How hard can it be to hook up a couple of smallish appliances to a timer that varies over a certain period?

No worries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152260)

The really personal stuff runs on batteries.

Have you forgotten about your person tracker? (2, Insightful)

jackchance (947926) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152270)

Last time i checked most people carry a cellphone which authorities can use to locate your person at all times.

BUT electricity usage can be used to get a warrant [hamptonroads.com] to search your home:

"An unusually high electricity bill alerted police to a possible marijuana-growing operation, the warrant said."

A matter of priorities... (1)

jafo (11982) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152432)

Ok, sure, so the smart grid may leak private information...

But my bigger concern now is this whole social security number "thing" where it's used as a primary database key for all sorts of companies, both within and outside of the government, is one of the primary keys to identity theft, and the government requires it's use for government things (where it's well protected), but doesn't prevent it's use by third parties (where it's *NOT* well protected). The most the government says is that you don't have to give your SSN to a non-government entity, but they can refuse to do business with you because of it. So as long as you don't need insurance or healthcare, you can do a pretty good job of protecting against identity theft.

Oh, wait, this report is from Canada, where they *DO* have requirements about the protection of their equivalent to the SSN...

Sean

Like your ISP, cell phone company, etc? (2, Insightful)

jparker (105202) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152460)

There are already tons of service providers we use (bank, credit card, hospital, ISP, cable company, cell phone company, etc.) that have a similar or greater amount of data. How does this pose any new problems?

I'd certainly like to see more clearly defined legal standards for how this kind of data may be used, but I'd assume that the tangled mess we have now would apply to the data that the power companies gather as well.

Flawed thinking (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152596)

There are already tons of service providers we use (bank, credit card, hospital, ISP, cable company, cell phone company, etc.) that have a similar or greater amount of data. How does this pose any new problems?

You've already been stabbed 9 times. How much more is one little scratch going to hurt?

Already there (1)

psithurism (1642461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152524)

Already . I know when my water bill went crazy 2years ago, I called up the water company and they emailed me an hour by hour breakdown of my usage for the past 6months and I am not on any smart grid yet, thats just the information they keep on their net-connected-computers after they read my water meter.

Also we also know that electricity usage has been used to look for marijuana growers for some time (example: http://www.kooky.com.my/node/1360 [kooky.com.my] ).

We either have to get rid of the systems we already have, or not worry about the incoming systems, because they aren't providing that much more info.

Why a two-way system? (4, Insightful)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152578)

Why can't the power company provide the information the consumer needs, and the consumer has a controller in their house that manages appliances and electricity use (without data feedback)? I don't recall the gas companies asking for control of our thermostats, so why should this be different*? You could opt-in to have your controller send data to the power company (or have the meter reader get the data when he comes around), but there would be no NEED for the power company to get information back. The power company could closely monitor each block if they want more data on what areas are helping with the smart grid effort without concerns over privacy.

I've heard about the smart grid for years and I know I can't be the first to ask this- maybe I'm missing something?

*Brownouts would be the main reason, but if everyone is getting real-time cost information (and set their controllers accordingly), the power companies would see a much better response when they jack up the rates during peak hours. I expect the system will work a lot better once they have a proper feedback loop.

Posted Anon. for obvious reasons... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152592)

I "knew" a person that "grew" marijuana.

I once asked him, generally speaking, where he grew.

What he told me was that he grew in a barn up in the mountains. Why in a barn, I asked him. Because this far out from the city, the electric meters were not able to reach cell towers, and thus could not report daily usage rates. The meter reader came out once a month so all they had was monthly usage figures (one of them old "spinny" type meters). He did this because the daily usage data was used to look for electric usage that followed a specific pattern, primarily a 11-12 hour peak usage period that would indicate growing lights. That, and the fact that nobody had a reason to be parked across the street with a FLIRgun or flying helicopters overhead. That is what he claimed, anyways.

I also once met a chap that used many rolls of copper house wiring, all spliced together into a coil, all laid out under the soil just below high-tension powerlines. Inductive leeching provided his entire grow operation with power--almost completely untraceable as well. At least that is what he claimed...

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30152642)

I'm in the midst of the smart grid, as a designer and a homeowner. I hate every part of it.

Automatic meter reading has been around for a while. It started with the Drive-by reads, where your meter was equipped with a small RF transmitter and a van was equipped with the receiver. Later, they used power-line communications that transmitted the data from the home to the substation, where the power company had its receiver hardware, and a telephone quality line to the utility. The down side to both methods is that it took almost a month to get every meter read, just in time to start again.
We have come a long ways since then, yet those initial technologies are still leading providers of Automatic Meter Reading (AMR). Some other providers came in with faster data rates, allowing for smart cap banks, integrated disconnects, demand billing, and outage detection. This created the AMI market (i = infrastrucure)

"Smart grid" way, way too complicated. (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152656)

The whole "smart grid" thing is way too complicated. All you really need are a few bits per minute broadcast from the power company, telling you how their current load status. [caiso.com] A few more bits from your local electric meter about your own current load would be helpful. Loads that draw more than about 300 watts and can run unattended needs to be receiving those bits, which in a home mostly means major appliances and HVAC.

During periods of power scarcity, the power company can send out, in increasing order of need, requests to drop excess load, warnings that excess load will push your electric bill into extra high rate territory, and finally an order to drop below a given load or the electric meter will cut your power. Or, at the other end of the scale, "power is really cheap right now, good time to charge electric cars, self-clean ovens, etc."

Businesses would probably sign up for demand pricing, where power during peak periods above some threshold is very expensive, and would have their own local controller devoted to keeping the cost down by making freezer cabinet compressors take turns, cutting off some lighting, and such. You can get that now; data transmission from the power company just means it has more info about the power supply situation.

Very little info needs to flow back from the meter to the utility. A reading once an hour is sufficient, if not overkill.

We do not need something that gives every appliance an IPv6 address.

Unfortunately, there's a pork-laden subsidy program for "smart metering" [energy.gov] that encourages meters to talk too much. This is becoming a boondoggle like ethanol.

Blur tool (1)

mattr (78516) | more than 4 years ago | (#30152662)

IANAEE but it seems strange there is no home battery that would blur usage, rather energy spikes are passed to the grid.
Put another way, what happens when lightning strikes? Is there a spike passed back?

A home ought to be able to hide usage of a kettle by drawing from a secondary battery which fills up gradually from the grid, my understanding is that in fact this should be happening and the battery works at night when power is cheaper.

Must the smart grid operate at high resolution to be efficient? Most high energy usages by homes would be happening at the same time of day I'd imagine. More danger would come I expect from being able to detect when a home is unoccupied.

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