/ 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
Matt Mullen says:
9 March 2011

I think the primary issue at this stage is for there to be a clear data usage policy (and guidance to the industry as such) on how this data will be used. There is a big difference between anonymous data being collated to look at usage across geographical areas and personalised data analysis, directed towards the behavioural targeting of third-party marketing collateral, as you suggest.

It is clear that detailed analytic data on our everyday consumer habits is of real important to how companies target their services; why else would Tescos et al reward people with vouchers for providing them with their shopping data ? It’s hard to imagine for second it is an act of altruism.

As such, perhaps an opt-in system – where the consumer can allow such usage data to be collected and tagged to their account – could reward them with a rate discount on the energy used ? A fair quid pro quo for having your energy supplied bugged ? Or does that mean that real privacy becomes something that only the wealthier consumer can afford to maintain ?

Hmmm…..

Guest

Opt-in sounds great in theory but think about what happens with a store loyalty card. Those who don’t opt-in get charged a lot more.

I’m more worried about what Tesco does with the data it collects.

Guest

I have grave doubts about how optional an optional system would be.

Once the smart meter is installed it would more likely be an overt or a covert system: overt if you opt in and covert if you opt out.

Guest
john says:
5 April 2013

It seems the back handers are not big enough where I live to force people into having a smart meter, the contractors are only interested in creating a lot of work for no good reason, yes new gas main pipes have been laid in my street, the contractor said “internal meters are illegal” the HSE say nonsense, they are perfectly legal, the contractors who usually backhand the local council have been told they must reinstall the existing meters, except the meters will be moved outside which of course means every householder will have to go outside in all weathers to read their meter, if there is nothing wrong with the meter and they don’t intend to issue smart meters, why dump all these cost’s onto local taxpayers.

Guest
npower press office says:
11 March 2011

Smart metering technology is at the heart of the Government’s carbon reduction plans, as they provide much more information about the way we all use energy than the current metering equipment can. By understanding how we use our energy, this will help us all to find ways of reducing our consumption and also help make our individual contribution to the overall carbon reduction targets.

Part of the role that energy suppliers will play is to develop more flexible tariffs and products that will encourage our customers to make energy savings. Customers will expect us to design products and tariffs to suit their individual consumption and needs, and therefore to collect more information from the meter than happens today.

Customer privacy and data security is key to the work being done in the industry and we are working with Ofgem to ensure that the appropriate customer protections are in place when the mass rollout starts next year. There are already customer protection mechanisms in place, such as the Data Protection Act, European Convention and Human Rights and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, that will ensure data is used in an appropriate way and that marketing information is only sent to those customers who have agreed to receive such messages.

We have installed some smart meters for customers who have agreed to take part in our smart metering trials, all of which have had few concerns about sharing data with us.

Guest
I.P.D. says:
4 May 2011

As an npower customer I have already written to them to let them know that I will not allow a smart meter to be installed in my home as this will be an infringement of my `Human Right to protect my health in my own home. I will not have a wireless device installed in my home as I am electrosensitive and have spent a fortune on protecting my personal space from outside microwave radiation sources like WiFi and mobile phone mast radiation. I myself do not use WiFi or a mobile phone for this reason and reserve my right to do so in the future.

It is very interesting that nowhere in any `public’ consultation document ( which is NOT being distributed amongst all energy users!) health effects are mentioned, although there is plenty of research ( the Bio Initiative Report alone contains 2000 such research documents!), which points to adverse health effects from wireless microwave technology. Not mentioning the `possibility ‘of adverse health effects when offering smart meters to their custumers leaves energy companies wide open to future litigation due to `wilful neglect’. In fact, the transmission mode is not even explained in these documents and the wording ` remote’ does not fully explain that the signal is transmitted via pulsed microwaves. A mention of the frequency should also be included so that customers are fully educated about this new device they soon will be `forced’ to have installed in their homes.

In Italy there have already been two High Court judgements supporting claims of adverse health effects caused by wireless transmission and one of the largest insurance companies have recently stepped back from liability for health effects from electromagnetic radiation.

There is a huge outcry in the US following people experiencing ill health after installation of smart meters and I encourage everyone to watch the videos of experts expressing grave concern on http://www.bemri.org. UTube also has a large amount of information regarding the public outcry in the US about smart meter health effects.

My question is WHY do we have to use a wireless transmission mode when it is perfectly possible to send the information via ethernet? Who profits at the price of public health ? What companies are involved in `managing’ transmission and how much do they get for this service?

The public is largely clueless about health effects and by neglecting the mention of such a possibility, this ignorance will go on.

Guest

To paraphrase Victor Meldrew ‘I don,t believe it’!

I work in software development, regardless of assurances as long as there is surveillance then there will be leaks.

Guest
jack says:
8 July 2016

[Sorry Jack, your comment has been removed for breaching Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]