by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions
Why You Can’t Trust Smart Meters or the Utilities
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued a grant in excess of $266,000 USD to Syracuse University to determine if smart meters will be ‘trusted’ by consumers due to “challenges — notably privacy and security.”
On October 27th, the NSF published an article on its website entitled, “New electricity meters are smart — but are they trusted?”
As indicated by the title, the article begins with a false premise that new digital utility meters are “smart” and then questions, for purposes of the Syracuse study, whether the new meters will be trusted by consumers. The introductory statements of the NSF article are:
“The smart grid: It’s the power-system modernization effort that U.S. utilities are building to meet the country’s growing demands for electricity. But it’s not confined to power plants and substations – if you have a smart meter, a key piece of smart grid technology already is attached to your house.
That means that Americans’ willingness to accept those meters, and use the features they provide, serves an important role in developing a more reliable, secure electrical grid.”
Smart meters should not be ‘trusted’ or ‘accepted’ by consumers for a number of reasons. Within the context of privacy and security, it is quite easy to demonstrate why. The NSF article acknowledges and states the following:
“Your power usage can say a lot about you. It could indicate whether you’re at home or on vacation, what time you’re awake or asleep or when you run certain appliances.”
The above basic factual information has been stated over and over by smart meter opponents. Yet the utility companies continually deny that smart meters can reveal this sensitive personal information. Do you know of a single utility company that acknowledges that smart meters can discern when you are asleep or when you run certain appliances?
… So, if the utility company doesn’t tell you the honest truth about basic privacy and security information pertaining to smart meters, how can you trust the utility on anything dealing with smart meters. You can’t. Do not trust ‘smart’ meters or anything said about them by utility companies or their colluding organizations. Period. It is that simple.
The NSF Proposes to Compare Apples with Oranges
The NSF article proposes that “a social media company might collect more data from users than a utility company,” and that “if users have an acceptable level of trust in the social media company and see their disclosures as voluntary, they might be agreeable to that.”
To me this analogy is inexplicable. It tries to portray the utility company as comparable to a social media company such as Facebook or Twitter. If people voluntarily share and post personal details on Facebook, then hopefully (?) they will be willing to share their electricity usage with the utility company and potentially other ‘trusted’ third parties. I see no connection.
First of all, in most areas, smart meters are being forced down people’s throats and are not voluntary. Second, many consumers are just not sufficiently aware of the privacy issues and risks of sharing personal information with either a social media company or the utility company.
An Example of How One Utility Compares Smart Meters to Social Media
The above comparison of smart meter privacy invasions with social media by the NSF brings to mind propaganda disseminated by Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) in Tennessee.
In an attempt to dismiss privacy and security concerns for smart meters MLGW uses a “myths and realities Q&A” page at its website. Here is a reported “myth” which can actually be true, i.e., thieves could use smart meter signals to know when you are not home:
“Smart Grid / Myths and Realities Q & A
Myth: Thieves will use my smart meter signals to know when I’m not home.
- Reality: Even if someone was able to hack into MLGW’s system to obtain your specific meter readings, it doesn’t make your home any more vulnerable to crime than when a thief parks down the street to watch you pull out of your driveway, or when a stranger knocks at the door without anyone answering, or when you activate the GPS locator features in your smart phone, or when you post vacation plans on social media.”
Personally I find the above “reality” as not very comforting. If I am aware of a stranger parked down the street for an extended period of time, I would call the police to investigate for possible stalking. I don’t enable GPS locator features in cell phones although others may if they wish, and I would never post my vacation plans on social media. Could we agree that would be a stupid thing to do?
What is really needed is for the NSF and other organizations to spend their available funds (millions of dollars) educating consumers on the true risks related to smart meters and not just figure how to fool the consumers into thinking that smart meter privacy invasions are comparable to a social media experience.
We need more educated consumers and when that happens, we will naturally have more opposition to smart meters. We would also have more accountability for unwarranted smart meter deployments. It is sad that a utility company might think it is appropriate to post vacation plans on social media and that some consumers are not smart enough to know better. In any case it is clear that we can’t trust utility companies on smart meters whether it be for privacy and security issues or, by extension, the other many smart meter risks such as health, cyber threats, fires, accuracy, etc.
As far as the “new electricity meters” somehow being “smart,” numerous other articles at this website explain how the net benefits do not exceed the significant risks and costs and that ‘smart’ meters are not necessary for grid modernization. Based upon that information, ‘smart’ meters are actually quite dumb.
Source Material for this Article
“New electricity meters are smart — but are they trusted?,” National Science Foundation (NSF) website, October 27, 2015, at http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=136484&org=NSF
NSF Award Abstract #1447589; EAGER: Data Privacy for Smart Meter Data: A Scenario-Based Study, at http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1447589
Smart Grid / Myths and Realities Q & A website page for Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division (MLGW), at http://www.mlgw.com/smart-grid/smartgridmythsrealities
$266K for this doublespeak? Unreal!