Utilities ‘Very Excited’ about Mining Smart Meter Data and Invading Your Privacy

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions 

Big Brother Graphic with SMAt a recent IBM-related conference, Dr. Stephen Pratt, Chief Technical Officer for CenterPoint Energy, stated the following during an interview:

“We have an entire organization that’s gotten behind data as an asset

We get a lot of data.  We do 221,000,000 meter reads a day …

We can do nothing with that data, or we can mine that data and use what we find from mining that data …

That is very exciting to me today.”

First, notice how the utility is treating your personal data as its “asset” … to do with what it pleases.

The utility then states it could “do nothing with data” or “mine that data.”  Why collect the data at all?  How does collecting massive amounts of personal data from inside your home pertain to the sole regulated duty of providing “electrical utility service”?  This service can be defined as “the infrastructure necessary to transmit electricity from the generation facility to the customer.”

Why is the utility being allowed to collect all this smart meter data not necessary to providing electrical utility service? 

Utilities Seek “Value” by Invading Your Privacy

From a POLITICO story in January entitled, “Smart Grid Powers Up Privacy Worries”:

I think the data is going to be worth a lot more than the commodity that’s being consumed to generate the data,” said Miles Keogh, director of grants and research at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

All sorts of inferences about people’s private lives are potentially available from detailed energy consumption data.  The number of people inside a house.  Daily routines.  Degree of religious observance.  Household appliance usage. 

Very sensitive information can be revealed about homes, and homes are the most sacred privacy environment,” said Nancy King, an Oregon State University business law and ethics academic who’s studying smart meter deployments. 

Access and control of that energy usage data will be key, she added.  “Most consumers are just unaware about how their data feeds into the Big Data machine and are powerless to do much about it.” 

Exhaustive electricity consumption data “is a holy grail, in many ways” for marketing analysts and consumer data aggregators, said Lee Tien, a senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  “Few other types of data get inside the home the way that electrical usage data does.”

Based upon the above information, it is clear that utilities are looking to “get inside the home” by “mining” and analyzing your personal data collected through smart meters.  This can be further confirmed by reading excerpts from of a recently issued document from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI):

“The roll out of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in many utility service territories has produced large amounts of customer-generated data, and utilities are seeking opportunities to maximize its value.  At the same time, anecdotes about value derived from mining ‘Big Data’ in other industries abound.”

“The flurry of business publications related to ‘big data’ and ‘data analytics’ has left many in the utility industry scrambling to get on the analytics bandwagon.”

[Reference:  EPRI Report Document # 3002003545, “Program on Technology Innovation: Data Analytics and Customer Insights,” dated December 22, 2014]

So there is a “flurry” of activity to collect your personal data and then figure out what to do with it … invading your personal privacy (and possibly compromising your security) in the process.

Privacy and Freedom at Risk

Data and Goliath Book CoverWhy is privacy important?  People need to consider what is discussed in a new book by Bruce Schneier called “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.”  Specifically, here is what Schneier said in a March episode of Democracy Now! and as shown in the video below:

“Here we are, producing this data — this big data land grab, to access it all, to analyze it all, to use it all, is not being buffered by a sense of privacy, of the personal nature of it.”

“Privacy is not about something to hide.  Privacy isn’t something that you only have if you’re a criminal.  Privacy is about individual autonomy.  It’s about presenting yourself to the world.  It’s about being in charge of what you say about yourself and what you reveal about yourself.

When we’re private, we have control of our person.  When we’re exposed, when we’re surveilled, we’re stripped of that control, we’re stripped of that freedom.  We don’t feel secure.  We don’t feel like we have something to hide.  We feel like we’re under the microscope.  We feel like prey.”

“The problems are political and social, and we need political change.”

“What people should do now is observe surveillance and talk about surveillance.  This needs to be an issue people care about it.  And the more we talk about it and make it an issue, the more we’ll get change. …  And we need laws to protect us against government surveillance and against corporate surveillance.”

In conclusion, please be aware that the collection of granular electrical usage data by your utility and the subsequent “data mining” is an unwarranted invasion of privacy.  It is not a privacy invasion that is necessary for the delivery of electrical service; thus, depending on the nature of your utility, it is either government surveillance or corporate surveillance.  You must resist this “big data land grab” or else be stripped of your freedom.

Source Material for this Article

“Centerpoint Energy Recognizes the Value of Data | #IBMEdge,” at http://siliconangle.com/blog/2015/05/15/centerpoint-energy-recognizes-the-value-of-data.

“Smart Grid Powers Up Privacy Worries” at http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/energy-electricity-data-use-113901.html.

“Program on Technology Innovation: Data Analytics and Customer Insights,” dated December 22, 2014, EPRI Report Document # 3002003545.

“Data and Goliath: Bruce Schneier on the Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World,” Democracy Now! at http://www.democracynow.org/2015/3/13/data_and_goliath_bruce_schneier_on.

“Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World,” by Bruce Schneier at http://www.amazon.com/Data-Goliath-Battles-Collect-Control-ebook/dp/B00L3KQ1LI/.

Copyright Notice © SkyVision Solutions and Smart Grid Awareness, 2013 – 2015.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of material from this site without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to SkyVision Solutions and Smart Grid Awareness with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About SkyVision Solutions

Raising public awareness and finding solutions for smart grid issues related to invasions of privacy, data security, cyber threats, health and societal impacts, as well as hazards related to radiofrequency (RF) radiation emissions from all wireless devices, including smart meters.
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