/ Home & Energy

Is my smart meter spying on me?

Eye spying through a hole

We have to rely on the government to look after our personal data. But would we trust companies with it too? With the roll-out of smart meters we could be giving our utility companies some extremely sensitive data.

We may have mixed views on what we want to tell the government, but in general our views on private companies holding personal data are pretty clear: we don’t like it.

And yet with the installation of millions of smart meters across the UK, we could be letting utility companies collect sensitive personal data on a half-hourly basis.

What do they know about me?

Currently, smart meters send gas and electricity readings direct to your supplier, and can also give you information that will help you lower your energy use. A great idea, and it stops the faff of having to wait around for someone to read your meter.

So presumably companies will take a reading once a month or so to keep your bill up-to-date, right? Wrong. Most companies will take half-hourly readings from your smart meter, to give almost real-time information about your energy use.

When the full roll-out happens it’ll be slightly different. Your data will be sent to a third party rather than to the company, but for now your utility company’s collecting the information.

Why is this a problem?

If I know, every 30 minutes, what energy you’re using I can tell quite a lot about your life. I know if you’re a night-shift worker, how often you go out on a Saturday and when you go on holiday.

I can also make educated guesses on more detailed things such as whether your boiler is inefficient, or whether you have an old washing machine that needs replacing.

As a company, this can translate into handy marketing messages: ‘Boiler getting old? Call us for a free consultation and we’ll help you choose a new one.’ Or: ‘You’re on holiday a lot – can we interest you in an alarm system?’

I want to choose!

So what is being done about it? Ofgem is trying to tighten up the rules by providing guidelines on how this data can be used, and we’ve sent them our suggestions to make sure consumers have choice in the matter.

But the main problem is that some energy companies have started rolling out smart meters without thinking about this issue. While the government and Ofgem are deciding how best to roll out, industry appears to be making a mass data grab while they can. Most customers haven’t been given a say in how much information the utility company collects, let alone what it’s used for.

We want to find out what you think about this, so we can make sure that the message we’re taking to companies is the right one.

Have you got a smart meter? Were you informed about the data implications before yours was installed? Were you given a choice? And most importantly – are you worried about companies collecting such detailed information about your habits and lifestyle?

Comments
Guest
S.Miller says:
5 May 2011

I see that two of my posts which included very informative links showing the adverse health effects of Smart Meters and real life people’s reaction to them have been deleted. In response to Jo Gibney suggesting that TV and radios emit pulsed microwave radiation in the same way that cellphones, phone masts, wifi, wii games and baby monitors do is utter rubbish. Swiss Telecom has made a public announcement that it will install free fibre optic broadband in every school in Switzerland with the condition that there is NO WIFI and all computers are HARD WIRED to routers with no wifi emissions. The French govt. is pulling wifi out of every school in their country at great cost because they are adopting the precautionary principle in response to many real life adverse health reactions. When is the UK going to lift its head from the sand of ignorance in the same way that many European countries have already done so? The ICNIRP guidelines are obsolete, please consult the Bio Initiative Report.

Guest

Hi there, we are happy for commenters to provide links in their posts, but we prefer them to have some context to the comment – and some greater explanation if possible. Lots of comments containing only links don’t really add a strong contribution to the discussion. If you’d like to resubmit with more context/opinion in your comment we’ll reconsider. Thanks.

Guest

I think we should all recognise the aims and ambitions of politicians and energy companies in this Smart Meter argument. The inderlying problem is that the popular environmentalists focus is concentrated on renewables etc and no politician is going to risk his/her furure by decrying wind-farms and PV panels. Vast investments and subsidies are going into these industries, the money for which will come from an effectctive tax on our energy bills.
The underlying problem is that most of the renewables are uncontrollable as far as the national grid is concerned. If you want to find out more do a Google on ‘Smart Grid’ to find out the plans and proposals. The big gap in our energy technology is storage.
One ‘carbon reduction focus’ is aimed at electric cars. For the electric car to have any reasonable use they will have to be rapidly refuled (just like wot petrol does at the moment) or we must have on-board storage. So, when we all have electric cars in our garages being re-charged overnight at cheap rates, then smart meters will get smarter and be able to charge up the cars when there is an adequate supply of power in the grid. However, when the grid runs short ( no sun or a great big anticyclone hovers over us and no wind blows for a few hours or more) then these super-smart meters will be able to extract energy from those with some surplus in their car and keep the rest of us supplied with a nice smooth 50Hz supply.
The cost of this new smart-grid (the current one will not be able to do it without large transmission losses) with a superimposed DC grid and DC/AC converters and all our pre-installed smart meters controlling us, will have to be paid for in advance if we wish to keep our deep-freezes healthy and arc-furnaces molten! An alternative that I have become aware of is the decreasing cost of domestic stand-by power supplies with battery storage and capable of delivering one to two kW to keep our central heating gas central heating running.
Don’t trust politicians with their ‘interested’ technical advisers to look after consumer interests.

Guest
Barry Murfett says:
9 May 2011

I have had smart meters fitted by OnStream on behalf of First Utility on 15 February. Since that time I have not received any bills for Gas (electric OK). E-mails ignored, after half an hour on hold I was assured I would receive a bill for gas usage in May, and provisions could be made for spreading the cost of this potemtially large bill, as yet no bill. Logged onto web site and gas usage is being displayed

Guest

I don’t want smart meters – in the same way I did not like the proposed selling off of our forests – A campaign stopped the selling off – a campaign to refuse smart meters could have similar effect.

I have low level bulbs – no light is on if I am not in the room.- thermostats on all radiators and in rooms set to turn off at 60 degrees – boiler just on two hours a day (one morning one afternoon) – This ALREADY keeps my bills to a minimum – I inform companies by Internet on monthly consumption – My computer use is by cable as it stops hackers hacking the wireless transmissions. and keeps radiation down I have full double glazing and insulation.

It is a total doddle to see (it is too simple to call it calculate ) my consumption in gas and electricity by the monthly reading. Why the devil would I need a smart meter for – I’m certainly smarter than a smart meter.

This is yet another con. I am not convinced that any room style transmitters are indeed ‘completely safe’ – it depends entirely on the power and wavelength used – will they use one power setting so that those nearest the receiving aerial will be unnecessarily saturated by radiation – or for those far away will have very large powerful transmitters showering the occupants with high levels of radiation (after all there are many areas where mobile phones are still not powerful enough to communicate properly . There is no real long term research on effects of mobile phones to reach a definitive conclusion – It needs to be life time length – not “oh we haven’t had many diseases directly attributed to mobiles YET”. The real universal use of mobiles is too recent to draw definitive conclusions. Reminds me of Thalidomide. Perfectly “safe” until the defects appeared.

Guest
d.andrew says:
17 May 2011

It worries that smart meters are compulsory. Does that mean we cannot refuse to use them?
Whatever anybody says I know I feel ill when I use a mobile phone, and the smart meters appear to emit microwaves of the same frequency, only you cannot turn them off!
I fear that with increasing use so the people who become electrosesitive will also increase as smart meter installation will be an exponential factor in microwave pollution.
This does not bid well for the future – watch depression, suicides and violent crime increase. I remember when ‘anger management’ was not in English usage.
Everyday I read column inches in newspapers about people suffering from stress and anxiety – one article in The Times recently admitted that the writer even worried about being anxious! She said she was anxious for no good reason – the microwaves that she is immersed in all day may have something to do with it.
We are making our lives miserable by ignoring the ill effects of all this microwave technologies and we continue to find more uses, like an addict causing self inflicted injuries!

Guest
J Lewis says:
20 May 2011

I think the ability to understand your energy usage is useful to allow consumers to reduce our usage. Installation of smart meters will save energy companies money and so is presumably a good reason for them to invest money in them. Unlikely the consumer will see reduction in bills because of them.

I don’t have wifi on in the home all the time because I like to reduce the risk of hacking etc.

Although companies have a duty to adhere to data protection law and keep data secure this is not possible to guarantee as evidenced by publicised data leaks and loss. Data can also be misused.

I have seen two mentions in the press over the last year or 2 about smart meters making it possible to ‘change demand’ ie stopping or reducing supplies to consumers. The latest being in the Daily Mail 9 Jan 2011 at the end of an article on wind farms “Customers face huge bill for wind farns that don’t work in the cold’. However I have not seen this aspect highlighted or mentioned by Which. I beleive the consumer should be given all the facts with regard to new technology expecially where there is a compulsory aspect to it.

Guest
chazzi says:
2 June 2011

Definately NOT!
I’m sensibile enough to know when to conserve the energy in MY home and want my privicy, what’s left of it, respected.
Big brother watching..Iv’e had enough with the nanny state we’re in.