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Is Your Electricity Meter Spying On You?

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the unseen-mechanized-eye dept.

Privacy 405

lee1 writes "If you have a 'smart meter,' it is collecting data that can reveal when you wake up, when you leave for work and come home, when you go on vacation and when you take a shower. This data is commercially valuable and, if sold to third parties, can lead to privacy invasion on a massive scale. The California Public Utility Commission is reacting to the gas and electric company's mass installation of these meters with new proposals for strong privacy protections."

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405 comments

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But.... (5, Funny)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096458)

These are what keep us SAFE because it lets power companies notify law enforcement when our neighbors are growing marijuana! We NEED these to keep us SAFE!

Re:But.... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096512)

Your smart meter data shows you were in the shower at 09:30 this morning and not stuck in traffic! Don't bother coming into work tomorrow Haffner - you're fired!

Re:But.... (1, Interesting)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096556)

Funny. I thought they were there so they could rape people in the face with excessively high power costs. Which are the result of massive conservation efforts.

Re:But.... (2)

kqs (1038910) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096986)

Without conservation efforts, power costs wouldn't be excessively high? That seems optimistic.

Re:But.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36097218)

It's true! During the recent drought, people conserved so much water that the DWP had to raise rates to cover operating expenses!

Re:But.... (3, Funny)

whovian (107062) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096664)

One man's 600 W marijuana farm is another man's compute cluster.

Re:But.... (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096704)

Obviously that compute cluster is used for child porn. QUICK OFF WITH HIS HEAD!

Re:But.... (2)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096770)

Clearly, all customers who consume electricity more than one standard deviation above the norm should be eligible for a warrantless search of their house.

Re:But.... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096884)

You say that jokingly, and yet, that is the SOLE piece of evidence that has been used at least three times in my county alone (three that I personally know of, probably has been more) to justify breaking down someone's door at 3AM on a drug raid. Granted, one time out of those three the person actually WAS growing pot, but the other two times? And no, the people were not compensated in any way, including for the damage to their property and possessions.

Re:But.... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096914)

How did they get that evidence without a court order?
Getting the court order for the data from the electric company should require some other evidence right?

Re:But.... (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096990)

The electric company might just give the data to the cops without ever being asked. Power companies typically like average customers, not peak customers (although they do like customers who use lots of power at off-peak times). If someone hands the cops something, they don't need a warrant. The only question then is if the people with their doors busted in have any recourse against the power company.

Re:But.... (1)

DrKnark (1536431) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097008)

Well, that wouldn't be enough. They probably couldn't filter out someone with just a couple of plants anyway. But if you have say 3kW of growing lamps going on and off at the same second every day then maybe, if added to other suspicious activity it could warrant some form of action. I've been told that this is one way police look for marijuana farms here in sweden.. whether there's any truth to that I do not know.

Re:But.... (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097110)

Warrantless? Of course there will be a warrant...

Re:But.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096838)

One man's 600 W marijuana farm is another man's compute cluster.

That's a pretty crappy marijuana farm if it's only 600W.

Re:But.... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096994)

LEDs my friend, LEDs ;)

Re:But.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096946)

One man's 600 W marijuana farm is another man's Bitcoin Mining Rig.

Fixed that for you :-)

Re:But.... (1)

Rossman (593924) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097094)

It's not in the power company's interest to rat out people with grow-ops.
Assuming the people are paying their bills in a timely manner, they are a good profit centre for the power company.

But, but... (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097204)

These are what keep us SAFE because it lets power companies notify law enforcement when our neighbors are growing marijuana! We NEED these to keep us SAFE!

I grow marijuana, you insensitive clod!

yea and my toaster (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096472)

is signalling the CIA

Re:yea and my toaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096576)

It happens I have been working with people connected to the intelligence community and I confirm they indeed make use of electricity and water consumption data.

The lesson (4, Insightful)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096644)

The lesson here: any data that is collectable will be collected. Any data that is usable will be used.

It would be entirely naive to think that law enforcement would restrain themselves from using data that is right there for the taking. All it takes is a little strong-arming of the company in charge of the data.

That includes consumption of electricity, water, gas, internet, cable-tv, UPS-deliveries, and anything else someone else pumps into your house.

Re:The lesson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096742)

Well then screw with their data by using a grid-tie battery bank and a computerized charger. I'm sure you can "simulate" another routine or just pull your electricity for the day in bulk when the rates are lower. A 12V car battery holds about 1kWh of electricity and can last for 7 years. Size accordingly. As a side benefit, your home wouldn't have any problems with brownouts and would be ready for a future solar installation.

Re:The lesson (2)

Stormthirst (66538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096928)

Better yet use a commercially available "leisure battery", which are designed to hold more power, but release it more slowly than a car battery. And pay for it with cash so they don't spot what you're doing on your credit card.

Personally I think this is a little crazy and tin foil hat, but there is a serious point here. The power grid would be more efficient if you could even out a lot of the power spikes that occur. I still remember when I was a small child visiting a small lake that was at the top of a mountain (I think in Wales), which was discharged through some turbines when the commercial breaks came on the TV in the local area to cope with thousands of people turning their kettles on to boil water for tea. After the water was discharged, and the power grid had returned to a more normal state the water would be pumped back up the mountain ready for the next commercial break.

Re:yea and my toaster (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096640)

is signalling the CIA

We told you not to go and load Debian on it, but would you listen? No, of course not.

Re:yea and my toaster (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096966)

Try wrapping the bread in tin foil.

Privacy (3, Insightful)

Renraku (518261) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096488)

People need to realize that any device that can collect and transmit data will probably be used to collect more data than they should. That data will PROBABLY end up being sold, simply because people are willing to pay for it. Since it is our data, why can't we demand a cut of the profits?

Re:Privacy (1)

einstein4pres (226130) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096610)

Since it is our data, why can't we demand a cut of the profits?

Well, in theory, selling that data should allow your electricity provider to provide service for less money, but that's not a given by any means.

Also, while the data is about you, the data was collected by another party. (at the risk of bad analogy) If you participated in a study, you wouldn't expect to own the results, or even the data collected on yourself.

Re:Privacy (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096866)

No, in theory they would just keep that as profit. Electricity is sold at whatever price the market will pay.

Re:Privacy (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097080)

That varies by state. In Indiana the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission must approve rate hikes. Although they've recently been plauged with the typicaly "You went to work for the company you regulated and made a gazillion dollars, right after making a favorable decision for said utility." scandal.

Re:Privacy (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096882)

Well, in theory, selling that data should allow your electricity provider to provide service for less money, but that's not a given by any means.

I always thought this would be the case with branded clothing, the shirts that have the manufacturer's logo emblazoned in bright letters across the sleeve, back, and/or chest. You're basically a walking billboard. But generally they are more expensive than unbranded clothes. So this led me to believe that perhaps the branded clothes are of a significantly higher quality than unbranded clothes and, without the logo, might actually be even twice what we pay for them.

But then I thought that we're probably just getting ripped off.

Re:Privacy (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097040)

You are paying for the envy of those among your friends who do not have the cool brand of clothes.

Same deal with "luxury automobiles."

Re:Privacy (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096992)

Could you repeat that?

signed,

the NSAA.

Re:Privacy (1, Interesting)

softWare3ngineer (2007302) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097038)

Because its not your data...
Just as you don't own your music, copy of MS software, facebook data, instant messages, and most things you put on the Internet.

Also reveals schedules to thieves (2)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096502)

If they aren't protected with strong security, and thieves can extract the information, it's as good as people posting all that information on Facebook or similar.

Re:Also reveals schedules to thieves (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097130)

Yes. I can just see the thieves breaking into the power comapny, finding the data, pouring over their data with statistical software to determine when you won't be home. Then breaking in with a crowbar to steal your TV.

Granted, that's about what they did as part of finding UBL, but that's a different bunch of guys than the ones stealing TVs.

Or... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096504)

Or you could use Facebook status updates:

"ugh, just woke up, stupid alarm! FML!"
"about to have a shower!"
"shower was too cold! FML!"
"Just got home, traffic was horrible! FML!"

Just curious (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096506)

How can this data be used against you in any way, other than the fact that someone can steal stuff from your house if they know you arent home?

Re:Just curious (1)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096572)

Try thinking about it. Try thinking about yourself in other peoples' shoes, using this data to persecute or do wrong to someone... Be creative. Brainstorm.

These tools were emphasized a lot in elementary school -- use them. I would spoonfeed, but that won't help you be a better thinker.

Re:Just curious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36097200)

You could figure out whether they left their computer on when they went to sleep or left the house. That could be used this to hack into encrypted computers by extracting the password from RAM.

You could see all the unusually long showers people have.

You could figure out how much and when they watch TV. If they watch at suspicious hours of the night, it's probably porn.

You could look for spikes in power use coming from a PC to figure out what it is being used for. If it has suspiciously often at the range corresponding to videos being watched and cross-referencing doesn't see Internet use, it's probably illegal.

You could discover how full the fridge and freezer is, when groceries are put inside them and when they are used. F ex if there is a big freezer that is suddenly filled a huge and/or warm mass, it might be a human in there.

Re:Just curious (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096708)

What about selling the data to your employer so they can keep track of you? Not as damaging as burglary, but still a huge invasion of privacy.

Re:Just curious (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096910)

The power company doesn't know who I work for. Also, I can't imagine anything in my power usage that any employer would consider valuable information.

Re:Just curious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36097098)

The power company doesn't know who I work for.

But your employer likely knows where you live and can make a good guess on which power company to approach to ask for the data.

Also, I can't imagine anything in my power usage that any employer would consider valuable information.

Sometimes the malicious have better imaginations than the rest of us.

Re:Just curious (1)

Stormthirst (66538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096988)

Why would your employer want to keep track of you at home? If you show up for work on time, don't take the pi$$ with well - pi$$ breaks/lunch breaks, and don't skip off home early, why would they care what time you had your shower in the morning? Are employers in the states that paranoid? Granted, if you work from home, that I guess that's one thing but the vast majority don't.

Oil company shills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096516)

Trying to stir up FUD about smart meters. Enforcing energy poverty is more important than risk to your privacy.

Classic TEMPEST (1)

Gazoogleheimer (1466831) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096530)

So you install a constant-velocity motor generator set and...

well, if you were a military installation protecting something important, then it'd be a bit different. Yes, it's very wrong to sell it to a commercial entity, but it's not wrong at all to collect it. You're buying power from these people -- it would be like asking your water company to stop using their AMR equipment. Or gas -- oh no, they know when my water heater cycles and I use the stove. It's strange, I feel that people are diverging on privacy. On the one hand, they don't care about privacy of their personal lives and relationships (re: Facebook) but now they care that someone knows how much electricity they're using? Enlighten me if you disagree with my opinion that this is all a bit silly (remembering that I am not saying that commercial sale of this data is OK)

Re:Classic TEMPEST (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096674)

On the one hand, they don't care about privacy of their personal lives and relationships (re: Facebook) but now they care that someone knows how much electricity they're using?

Some of us don't use Facebook or other social media with a real name attached for that very reason. Why should we be lumped in with the unwashed masses who give away CC numbers for a free soda?

Water/power are utilities, they are run by private companies but they are local government granted monopolies. That means we as the public get a say in how they are run and what they collect and what they use it for. I can't choose a different power or water company. Phone service has been much the same way until recent years.

Internet would be a monopoly if it had been created at an earlier time, but currently it's only psuedo-monopoly via cable TV franchises. Wireless Broadband will further make this a choice option.

Re:Classic TEMPEST (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096702)

The trick is that the gas company hasn't had the capacity to monitor your water heater use with temporal precision in the past. Now they can know that the heater kicks on between 7:30 and 8:00 M-F reliably -- probably to recover from your morning shower.

Re:Classic TEMPEST (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097178)

Actually, they have, but it's opt in. Most utilities have a program to pay you for control over your water heater. They shift it's on/off phase based on grid usage to lower their peaks. Energy cost is as much about peak infrastructure as about the total energy used.

Re:Classic TEMPEST (3, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096714)

No, attitudes on privacy aren't diverging. You're just misrepresenting them.

I post on Facebook what I choose to post. Therefore, Facebook posts are not a privacy violation (unless they ignore my privacy settings) because the act of making those posts was an act of explicit consent to share that information with the people I chose to share it with. Yes, stupid people will post stupid things that allow others to invade their privacy, but you can't legislate away stupidity.

By contrast, I don't choose what information my water meter collects. Therefore, the water company should not be allowed to disclose any information that it collects. Similarly, Facebook should not be allowed to disclose anything that I don't explicitly allow them to disclose. And so on.

Disclosure of private information should require explicit consent. The deeper you hide that consent in some service agreement, the bigger the privacy violation you're committing. Simple as that.

Past history (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096858)

The government/law enforcement has a proven history of using power metering in order to obtain warrants to search the premises, so perhaps it makes more sense in that light. "Your power consumption is way out of profile for your service demographic, ergo we believe you are conducting illegal activities..."

Of course, if you are of the "I have nothing to hide, so let them search/datamine/whatever" mindset then perhaps this won't prove convincing. These data have been abused in the past, even at the gross, monthly-metering sampling rate. It isn't surprising that people are somewhat paranoid about what new abrogations of civil rights might grow from having fine-grained data available.

I would rather have commercial sale of this information (presuming a fantasy world where this sale could somehow preclude the government obtaining indirect access) than to allow the government to have access to the same. No annoying, profiling corporation can send armed squads to serve a "no knock" warrant to invade my domicile. This stands in stark contrast to the government. Naturally, of course, the best scenario would be if my power consumption remains a private matter solely between me and the power company and the information never goes any further than that.

Of course, I also think it is crazy how much information people freely share online, so perhaps you would just classify me as a total privacy advocate. AC to be consistent with what I advocate...

Re:Classic TEMPEST (1)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096890)

There's a key difference. When people post on facebook/foursquare/twitter/etc, they are willingly divulging the details of their own personal lives. When your electric company does the same thing with its customers' information, it will likely be done without their knowledge or consent, and not at the customers' initiative.

It's about who controls the information.

Does God spy on you? (1)

Trivial Solutions (1724416) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096546)

God says...
certainly unhappily moveth ball enjoying strife Light
recurring admit equivalent guessed affliction nigh restraint
peacemaker vainglorious Replacement sometime boy hitherto
boast removal fostering eternal uprightness instead glory
avenues Cross greediness comprehending said writing Godhead
native

very interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096570)

@Haffner: The hydro company only notifies the authorities if the bad guys growing marijuana don't pay their electricity bill; otherwise they are considered a profitable customer who pays on time - in which case why would they want to ruin a good thing? :)

However on a more serious note, this piece makes a good point - I don't want this information sold off to the highest bidder.

Of all the people that can access my data (2)

ncttrnl (773936) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096592)

I seem to be the only person not allowed to collect data from the smart meter on my house. I have allow Google to collect the data for me or I can't access it at all.

Still.... (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096600)

Beats letting some random stranger (potential murderer) in your house to read the meter.

Also, "can reveal". Can being the operative word, really they are just inferring from spikes in electricity usage when certain things might be happening, they can't really tell the difference between taking a shower and suddenly turning on every appliance in your house just for shits and giggles. Nor can they tell the difference between leaving for work and deciding to sulk in complete darkness because you're feeling gothic. But yes, some annoymizing of the data would be nice (i.e. only summary data that shows when electricity usage typically peaks in certain types of household and not individual households exact usage).

Re:Still.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096654)

Beats letting some random stranger (potential murderer) in your house to read the meter.

Most electric meters are actually installed outside the house.

Also, "can reveal". Can being the operative word, really they are just inferring from spikes in electricity usage when certain things might be happening, they can't really tell the difference between taking a shower and suddenly turning on every appliance in your house just for shits and giggles.

Given the price of electricity in the Peoples Republic of California, no one turns on every appliance for shits & gigles.

Re:Still.... (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096744)

Beats letting some random stranger (potential murderer) in your house to read the meter.

How does whether it is collected manually or electronically change the fact that it is collected? The latter is a bigger scope but can be done with the former especially since electric meters are usually outside anyway...

they can't really tell the difference between taking a shower and suddenly turning on every appliance in your house just for shits and giggles.

Except that nobody does that. Surveillance works with routines and normal. If they see your power drop every day at 8:30am, it's pretty clear you aren't home and they can now verify that by seeing your car(s) leave. The collected data lets them get a feel, then actual surveillance is used to go in when needed.

Re:Still.... (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096924)

How does whether it is collected manually or electronically change the fact that it is collected? The latter is a bigger scope but can be done with the former especially since electric meters are usually outside anyway...

It's not collecting the meter read that's a problem, it's the unscrupulous folks who claim they're from the electric co. to read your meter when in fact they just found some uniform-ish looking clothes at the thrift store and want to see what sort of valuables you have in the house. Or, for that matter, the meter readers who really do work for the electric co. but whose night job isn't so honorable.

Re:Still.... (2)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097180)

it's the unscrupulous folks who claim they're from the electric co. to read your meter

The meter is outside... And any modern utility has long since put distance readable meters so the techs don't even need to be in your yard...

Blanket laws (1)

Palmsie (1550787) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096624)

How many /. articles has there been just this past week on companies getting in trouble with the data they collect about their customers? It seems like there needs to be pretty broad laws that cover how ALL companies are allowed to handle user data. Arguing that they shouldn't collect that data, I think, is a bit silly, especially because it helps companies focus on what products to make or how to better tailor their resources to fit consumer needs. However, selling the privacy I entrusted to company X to company Y is a bit unacceptable. Why not have broad laws that cover these things that allow for opt-in (not opt-out) so we can stop hearing about this nonsense. It's the function of the government to define the rules of the game... where's my government!

Re:Blanket laws (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096948)

Arguing that they shouldn't collect that data, I think, is a bit silly, especially because it helps companies focus on what products to make or how to better tailor their resources to fit consumer needs.

Or, if they're the power company, it lets them screw their customers by charging more for power while not building more power stations and knowing customers have little or no other option unless they want to disconnect from the grid.

Re:Blanket laws (1)

Palmsie (1550787) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097052)

Totally a possibility.

Tin Foil Hat Time! (2)

LordStormes (1749242) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096628)

This is getting ridiculous. Half the posts on /. are "Oh noes, companies can find out when I X!" If companies want that information, they'll just look at your Facebook account, where you posted pictures of your office, your cat, check-in data at the porn store up on the corner, and links to your YouTube video of your marijuana plants for all the world to see. We cannot simultaneously be a society that wants to share everything and keep everything secret.

Re:Tin Foil Hat Time! (4, Insightful)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096726)

The flaw in your logic is that not everyone uses facebook. Facebook is voluntary, the electric meter is not.

Re:Tin Foil Hat Time! (1)

LordStormes (1749242) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096972)

Not everyone does, but I am willing to bet that at least 60-70% of the /. userbase does.

Re:Tin Foil Hat Time! (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097004)

We cannot simultaneously be a society that wants to share everything and keep everything secret.

There are 2 major differences between posting stuff on the web, and companies spying on you and selling that information:
1. Anything somebody posts up on the web for the world to see is something they (or at least somebody present at the time) chose to post. And we don't share everything: Somebody could post "I just got married to a wonderful lady!" and include a picture of the bride in her wedding dress, but not include her bra size or her credit score or the fact that they met in an S&M club.

2. When people give their information away, they are exchanging it for a service of some kind (e.g. hosting their video in a publicly accessible and searchable way). When companies spy on people, they are taking it with no compensation at all. Since this data has value (otherwise, you couldn't exchange it for services, nor could the company who collects it sell it or use it), the companies in question are basically stealing it.

So we're not a society that wants to "share everything", we're a society in which some people choose to share some things in exchange for some services. And we don't (necessarily) want to "keep everything secret", but we do want to have control over what's secret and what's not, and get something in exchange for what we choose to not keep secret.

This should be obvious... (1)

Glendale2x (210533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096632)

Smart meters can pinpoint time of usage. Of course it's possible to extrapolate the user's living habits from this additional data. The summary makes it sound like the thing is intentionally spying. You could do the same thing with the old analog meters except it would be more along the lines of "they probably went on vacation this month" since the sampling interval by the power company was monthly. Smart meters are like reading the analog dials every 5 minutes (or whatever the sampling interval is).

Or for the paranoid: all someone would need to do is point a camera at your analog meter dials transmitting back to an unmarked van recording the values every 15 minutes.

Re:This should be obvious... (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096762)

all someone would need to do is point a camera at your analog meter dials transmitting back to an unmarked van recording the values every 15 minutes.

Just because it's easy to do doesn't mean it should be done, especially on such a large scale as this. I don't understand the hate for the proposal. It's taking preventative measures to make sure this data doesn't all into the wrong hands.

Re:This should be obvious... (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096852)

all someone would need to do is point a camera at your analog meter dials transmitting back to an unmarked van recording the values every 15 minutes.

I think I would notice a camera set up inside my house.

Smart Meters... dumb paranoia (1)

webdog314 (960286) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096684)

Smart Meters don't know anything about when you leave for work or use your toaster, or when you shower, or anything else specific about your energy use beyond how many kW you are using at any given time. They record your energy usage at set intervals, which data can then be used to *guess* how you may be using it. If you happen to have fifty lights in your home that are all on until the moment you walk out the door to go to work in the morning, then yes, they could probably guess when you leave... or, it could just be that you were using your oven for an early morning batch of muffins. They don't have specifics on your appliances (yet), and they don't record anything about *you*.

Where I live, it's FAR more likely they would guess when I use my air conditioning, which can easily quadruple my hourly usage when on.

Re:Smart Meters... dumb paranoia (2)

Bergs007 (1797486) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096874)

It's actually pretty easy to generate an appliance profile for a house and figure out which appliances are on at any given time, even for loads as low as 10W. Considering the time delays between running around to every device in your house, it's also possible to figure out in what order the appliances were turned on! Relevant papers: http://seclab.illinois.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/BergmanJJTGW11.pdf [illinois.edu] http://www.computer.org/portal/web/csdl/doi/10.1109/MPRV.2010.71 [computer.org]

Re:Smart Meters... dumb paranoia (1)

bioster (2042418) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097062)

I disagree. I think appliances have distinct and identifiable energy signatures, and depending on the detail the meter records this could easily translate to dependable information about you and your habits.

See regular spikes over the year on weekdays, starting at 7am which end at 8am? Your routine involves waking up at 7am, and leaving for work at 8am.
Regular spikes starting at 7am that last throughout the day (but level off at 8am)? Your routine is waking up at 7am, and working from home.

700 watt spike most mornings for 30 seconds? Your toast.

Likewise, your water heater will have a particular wattage and they could use that to tell when you shower.

Thing is, maybe they don't know what the specifics are for your appliances... until they care. Once someone cares, they can make a profile of energy signatures (1100 watt spike for .1 seconds followed by constant usage of 1500w for at least 10 seconds? Hey, that's the pattern for a brand X model 1a1 water heater!), and then start data mining. Yes, I'm sure they'd make mistakes, but overall they could form a pretty accurate portrait of your daily life.

I think either A) you are underestimating the amount of usable data you can get by data mining or B) you are assuming that the smart meters must be limited to a rather coarse granularity such as total usage per hour... where in fact there's nothing stopping it from recording usage per second or even microsecond.

Re:Smart Meters... dumb paranoia (1)

Bergs007 (1797486) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097170)

I disagree. I think appliances have distinct and identifiable energy signatures, and depending on the detail the meter records this could easily translate to dependable information about you and your habits. See regular spikes over the year on weekdays, starting at 7am which end at 8am? Your routine involves waking up at 7am, and leaving for work at 8am. Regular spikes starting at 7am that last throughout the day (but level off at 8am)? Your routine is waking up at 7am, and working from home. 700 watt spike most mornings for 30 seconds? Your toast. Likewise, your water heater will have a particular wattage and they could use that to tell when you shower. Thing is, maybe they don't know what the specifics are for your appliances... until they care. Once someone cares, they can make a profile of energy signatures (1100 watt spike for .1 seconds followed by constant usage of 1500w for at least 10 seconds? Hey, that's the pattern for a brand X model 1a1 water heater!), and then start data mining. Yes, I'm sure they'd make mistakes, but overall they could form a pretty accurate portrait of your daily life. I think either A) you are underestimating the amount of usable data you can get by data mining or B) you are assuming that the smart meters must be limited to a rather coarse granularity such as total usage per hour... where in fact there's nothing stopping it from recording usage per second or even microsecond.

You basically just gave the summary for this paper: http://seclab.illinois.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/BergmanJJTGW11.pdf [illinois.edu]

Re:Smart Meters... dumb paranoia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36097214)

My water heater is gas, you insensitive clod!

Will reveal a lot more than your energy usage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096710)

I make these devices and at least my company considers home owners privacy very important.

Two things people need to understand:
1) These device will collect a lot of information about your power consumption and the type of power consumed. We can tell if an inductive load has come on versus a resistive load. Large appliances will likely have individual readings. (pool pump, water heater, air conditioner)
2) You are not unique. There are thousands of people who behave, share political views, and have an income and education levels similar to you. And people similar to you will have a very similar electrical usage signature. e.g. Give me a large enough sample of people and their electrical usage plus their voting histories and I can figure out other peoples voting histories just by their energy usage.

Re:Will reveal a lot more than your energy usage (1)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096898)

Correlation does not imply causation, but to an advertiser, marketing hack or political spin-doctor that doesn't matter.

Sometimes I feel like the only one... (1)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096720)

...that sees through the BS that surrounds these smart meters. The power company will say something like this: "this great new technology helps you use energy more efficiently, so you can be more green!" This is what I hear: "We are going to install new meters that allow us to charge you more for electricity when you use it when you most need it."

I need /. to let me know... am I the only one?

-d

Re:Sometimes I feel like the only one... (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096940)

This is what I hear: "We are going to install new meters that allow us to charge you more for electricity when you use it when you most need it."

It costs them more to generate electricity during peak periods (because they save the most expensive power generation for when they really need it), so why shouldn't they charge more when it costs them more?

Also, when it costs them less, they charge less than they do with flat-rate billing. This gives people an ability to economize that doesn't exist with flat-rate billing.

Re:Sometimes I feel like the only one... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096998)

It costs them more to generate electricity during peak periods (because they save the most expensive power generation for when they really need it), so why shouldn't they charge more when it costs them more?

What incentive do they have to build more power stations to support peak demands, if they can just charge more and know that there's no real competition?

Re:Sometimes I feel like the only one... (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097210)

What incentive do they have to build more power stations to support peak demands, if they can just charge more and know that there's no real competition?

Residential solar panels, which conveniently reach peak output around the same time of day [caiso.com] that conventional electricity becomes the most expensive to produce, is competition.

Re:Sometimes I feel like the only one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36097036)

Your right! the only real benefit to consumer is if you can access your own meter data.

Didn't the state government promote these? (2)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096750)

I may be remembering incorrectly, but it seems to me that I remember the California Public Utilities Commission pushing the utilities to install these. If that is correct, why did they wait until now to investigate the privacy implications? Wouldn't the correct time to have investigated the privacy implications been before you pushed the utilities to install these all over the place? I do know that when these were first introduced there were a lot of people asking these very questions.

Stolen is going to a problem also! (1)

DadLeopard (1290796) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096760)

Selling the info is bad enough, but at least those who buy it are JUST going to be trying to sell you stuff! The ones who steal or hijack this info are much more likely to cause you a lot more harm, and since it is going to be spread around to many different organizations and businesses, inevitably some are not going to adequately secure the data and it will be stolen and sold again to be used for criminal purposes! I predict that not too far in the future, if it isn't already available, there will be those cruising your street and harvesting this info direct from the source, or hacking into it remotely for the same reason, just cutting out the middle man!

Uhh, Haven't these meters been hacked? (1)

xkr (786629) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096772)

I am 95% sure these meters have all been hacked. I saw a demo in first person. (It might have been faked, I suppose.)

So, the bad guys drive around to find out who is on vacation?

Re:Uhh, Haven't these meters been hacked? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36097104)

So, does this mean that I need to continue to leave my A/C set at the same amount, have the TV come on and off when it usually does with a timer along with a few lights? Basically, if I use a bunch of energy when I'm not there and it would be more environmentally friendly to not use it, then I can protect my privacy and say screw the planet. Okay, sounds good. "Being Green == Less Privacy"

Amusing (1)

Windwraith (932426) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096820)

For some reason this doesn't sound as threatening as my credit card data or internet history being leaked...

Paranoia run rampant? (5, Informative)

GeekMarine72 (897842) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096862)

I've worked for a firm that collects this data. The technology, as it's exists now, is incapable of the level of analysis described. The data is flow is massive and only summation for billing is viable. Even then, "sanitization" of data is common practices. While protective legislation and guidance is encouraged before it goes too far, there are far greater violations including IP address mapping between logins on identifying solutions (gmail, yahoo mail) and apparent "anonymous" sites. Flash Persisted Objects being one aspect, IP + browser fingerprinting, and collaboration between marketing organizations and online retailers are bigger risks. The part that sucks is we can't opt out of smart metering. Security is quite solid but if I had any advice to the PUCs it would be to mandate truck roles for power turn off / turn down. The current broadcast model on smart meters combined with the potential to brute force the master key for broadcasting means someone with a bit of knowledge and desire could inject into the meshed network a flag to shut down broad swaths of power consumers, which in turn could lead to a surge back into the grid causing other catastrophic outages. GM72

Re:Paranoia run rampant? (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097026)

I've worked for a firm that collects this data. The technology, as it's exists now, is incapable of the level of analysis described. The data is flow is massive and only summation for billing is viable.

I can think of a few companies which could do the analysis. It's probably not even an order of magnitude larger than cell phone billing records, and smaller than cell phone location records. Even if it were technically infeasible to analyze the data now, that would change quickly.

Safeguards are meaningless; given a good enough reason (profit, for the children, drug enforcement, national security: take your pick) the safeguards will simply be ignored. The only way to keep this data from being abused is to prevent it from being collected in the first place.

Re:Paranoia run rampant? (1)

Bergs007 (1797486) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097108)

The nice thing about electrical data is that it compresses quite nicely if you intelligently select your thresholds. Essentially, if your algorithm is good enough, you can send discrete data points that correspond one-to-one with appliances turning on or off. And with each data point comprised of only 4 or 5 bytes, I'll let you all do the math.

Smart Meters may also be security problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096904)

I've read that some of these Smart Meters may have firmware vulnerabilities that make them susceptible to worms that could reek havoc with the electrical grid.

Can we stop with the tin foil hat articles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096906)

Seriously, it's getting ridiculous.

Publish the API. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096916)

Energy prices already fluctuate depending on usage times (even if you have abstracted this detail away with a fixed rate plan).

What I want to see a public API for accessing this data so we can tell when to get the best drain for our bucks.

Ultimately, I see this evolving similarly to the stock market. We can have computers that precisely control our lighting and appliances much like a high frequency trader's computers do.

Imagine being able to get the absolute best price for electricity, (a few dollars cheaper per month than your neighbors!) except that the shower is never heated for more than a few minutes at a time, and turning on a light results in a sporadic strobe effect.

Re:Publish the API. (2)

CarsonChittom (2025388) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097084)

and turning on a light results in a sporadic strobe effect.

I, for one, welcome our seizure-inducing electric overlords.

Still News??? (1)

softWare3ngineer (2007302) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096956)

How is this still news. Information about your personal habits, purchases, and movements is valuable. So companies are going to collected it and sell it. That is what companies are suppose to do. make money. I think we are being a little naive when we are surprised that this is happening. No one seems to care to follow their congressmen who create the environment for this to happen, but are mad when things don't go our way.

PR Blunder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36096958)

Here is what this whole issue boils down to: http://www.microparsec.com/comics/64.html - emotions will always override rational thinking, in either direction.

When I fart (0, Troll)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36096968)

When I fart you can tell what I had for dinner last night.

Is this a privacy concern?

No?

Damn. I was going to submit it to /.

Distraction from real issue (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097014)

I feel for all those peeps out there seeing their utility bills skyrocket after these things are installed. The less baseload you use the more you pay. Since they can predict exactly what the usage will be at large scales the easier it becomes to tweak the system to extract maximum $$$.

In terms of privacy even with the best protections on paper it is still more shit that can be used against you... A divorce attrny filing subpeonas to make the case you are a lazy bastard who constantly sleeps in or LEA on a witch hunt finding the correlation they've been looking for.

Either way smart metering means we all loose regardless of the text of any legislation. It is sad too because in principal I like the idea of exposing real costs to the consumer.

google power (2)

iiii (541004) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097048)

I hear google is starting a new service where you get your electricity for free, but they get to keep all the usage data and do whatever they want with it. As a first test of the utility of this they are modeling when people are home and when they are not, then door-to-door sales organizations get to participate in an auction to buy time segments of people at home. Rumor has it that the Girl Scouts and the Jehovah's Witnesses were having a bidding war for your house at 6:45-7:15 PM next tuesday. Next they will target your computer with ads for porn when you are using the laptop after 11PM and the wife has set her alarm earlier than 7AM and turned off the upstairs lights. Other applications to follow.

Ok, ok, i just made that up.

ALL DATA (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097100)

Any data can be used good or bad. For example for good it could be used so we pay more during peak time and less for off hours. This would normally be good for home users as most people are out to work during peak times thus are paying less. Also a lot of this data is not really too useful, as it doesn't prove anything. Do you take a shower at 6:00 or is your thermostat on a timer and you heat rises at 6:00 so when you wake up at 7:00 your house is warm and toasty.

It's not just gas and electric meters (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 3 years ago | (#36097182)

They have smart water meters, too.

It's a double-edged sword. Sure... if they cared, they could use it to determine when you were in the shower. But then again, they can also detect that your toilet is leaking ~1gpm and notify you before you get your next bill and discover that you were billed for using 40,000 gallons of water that month.

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