Watchdog Flags Smart Energy Meters Privacy Issue
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) recently released a press release which highlights concerns over privacy issues surrounding smart meters – something we may all be facing over the next few years.
SMART METERS IN EVERY UK HOME
The UK government have ambitious plans to implement smart energy meters in millions of homes in the UK, over the next few years, and these will replace the traditional gas and electricity meters. Gas and electric are included in the initial plans however smart water meters are just around the corner (source: Thames Water).
TRADITIONAL METERS NEED READING
Presently, information from traditional meters requires “reading” – either by the home owner visiting the appliance and making a note of the counter and passing it onto their energy provider or from a direct visit to the appliance from an energy inspector working on behalf of the energy provider. One of the more immediate benefits regarding the replacement of energy meters is that readings can be taken without direct inspection and on a potentially more frequent basis – the EDPS report highlight the possibility of readings being taken “every fifteen minutes”.
SMART METERS COULD LEAD TO OPPORTUNITIES
From the energy provider perspective the increase in information regarding consumer energy usage could lead to more intelligent data opportunities and is likely to contribute substantially to the the smart grid project to provide a more secure, safer, affordable, and lower carbon energy system in the UK. There is a lot of work involved in evaluating and building a smart grid with much of the ground work being carried out by energy providers and agencies including Ofgem, the independent regulator of gas and electricity in Great Britain, and the DECC, the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
BALANCING THE RISKS
Any system that aims to mass collect consumer data on a regular basis poses a potential risk however systems such as the planned £11 billion smart meter project could, as the EDPS finds, “track what members of a household do within the privacy of their own homes.” and any breach of that data could pose an increased risk. These risks are not just from the data collection itself but from intelligent algorithms which aim to assess the information collected and make assumptions regarding usage for example, according the EDPS report, readings could give insights into medical and other devices used within the home, identify behaviour patterns of people within the home, and broader assumptions could be made regarding communities and their energy usage.
The project is working with a number of agencies on identify and assessing these risks and on the flip side the issue may end up a storm in a teacup as there are already a number of consumer data collection schemes in existence including shopping rewards cards, website click tracking for targeted advertising, and banking information, and how many reports have their been of any these posing a risk?