Utilities: Proud to Know When You Make a Cup of Tea

The above chart is from a lecture entitled: “Data privacy and security in smart meters.   How to face this challenge?” by  Monika Stajnarova of the European Consumers Organization BEUC on 26th November 2010 in Florence Italy.  This was cited from a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

As you can see, a “smart” meter allows the utility to collect data on your second by second electricity consumption.   Though it might seem trivial for the electric company to know when you boil the kettle for a cup of tea, the new technology is enabling widespread violations of the right to privacy in your own home, and consumer privacy protections have failed to keep pace with the abuses made possible by new technology as the iPhone tracking scandal made clear.  For more on the privacy issue, read the Stop Smart Meters! interview with Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation from last September.  The organization is currently involved in a proceeding on smart meters and privacy at the CPUC.

Well worth keeping an eye on the eyes keeping an eye on you!

This entry was posted in CPUC, Democracy, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Utilities: Proud to Know When You Make a Cup of Tea

  1. RobertWilliams says:


    1. Information customers can access is NOT real time and it is NOT formatted for customer use so it does NOT assist customers to use less energy or lower their utility bills.

    The information assists the Utility Company to bill customers and shut off customer power remotely.

    The information will also be shared with corporations that will die for this information to know how to approach and sell products to each customer.

    The government will also have access to this information so that every move made in every home will be known and the government will be able to protect us from the dishonesty and corruption of our neighbors.

    2. High-tech home robbers (and high-tech child molesters) will also hack this information and know exactly your habits and when you are not home (and when your children are home).

  2. Redi Kilowatt says:

    The utilities companies have always known how much power a customer uses in a month, and all customers who care can read their own meter every hour if they want to, but that is not necessary if the customer reads the rating plate on the appliances and devices. We already know when something is on or off, so these new meters really serve no useful function to the customers.
    There are many wealthy people that live in large estates in Marin. These people have:
    irrigation well pumps, sewer ejector pumps, electric gates and hillevators, motorized window shades and skylights, servants quarters houses, pool houses and pools, spas, saunas and hot tubs, steam rooms, elevators, home theaters, trading rooms (many computers and monitors), electric excercise machines, multiple freezers and big high end sub zero refrigerators, communications equipment, intercom systems, security systems, multiple water heaters and circulation pumps, shoe “closets” the size of your bedroom with fantastic lighting systems, dehumidifiers, humidifiers, multiple 6 ton air conditioners, industrial sized ranges and ovens, and tea kettles and toasters too !
    The electric bill is usually around average of $3,500 per month, but that varies on the season, when it’s raining, they don’t need to run the irrigation well pumps, which often cost $1,000 per month or more to operate.
    I know this because I work at high end estates. Some of these places that I have worked at in southern Marin have 2000 amp main services, and huge electric rooms, mechanical equipment rooms and computer rooms.
    The point that I’m trying to make is that there is no way that the power company can tell what you are using your energy for, and that they really don’t care what you use it for , as long as you pay the exorbitant bill in a timely manor.
    Think about it, they are in business to sell power, and the MO THE BETTAH.
    The power companies cannot dictate to customers how to run their businesses (or houses). For example, they cannot say to BEST BUY, you are running too many TVs, you must turn them off during the hours of 3:00pm to 9:00pm, or to large facilities owners like shopping malls, office buildings and manufacturing plants, turn off your heaters , air conditioners and lighting because all these new radio meters are hogging up too much juice, or to giant hospitals, your CAT scan machines are using too much electricity for mostly unneeded scans and testing , shut em down ! WE NEED THE POWER TO ELIMINATE METER READING JOBS.
    No way, no how, the power companies will never dictate to corporations how to run their businesses. They will have to go to the CPUC and request even more rate increases (and maybe some federal tax money) to pay for all the new generation plants and grid improvements just to power the new radio billing meters.
    And about the big new wave of electric vehicles, they are not selling many of them , sales are dismal, but GE just got $50 million of federal stimulus bailout money to buy a fleet of Chevy Volts .

  3. Mike Lee says:

    NPR’s Science Friday program had a segment today on the smart grid
    titled “Building A Better Electric Grid”, which gives away the bias.
    All 3 guests were with businesses making money from the smart grid.

    One of them with OPower.com bragged they “try to get as much information as they
    can” on customers, such as county assessor data, to combine with the complete
    smartmeter data they get from utilities, on which they do analytics to
    figure out what appliances customers have and how they’re using them, and
    “under cover of the utility send messages to customers”. When asked a softball
    question about privacy he said “people are realistic that data is out there”,
    “utilities need to provide a new level of service in the information age”, his
    company will be serving 10 million customers by the end of the year, and not a
    single customer signed up to get the messages they send out. Nobody commented
    on the contradiction between the last two statements, nor the contradiction with
    another guest’s statement that the smart grid is about giving customers choices.
    Nobody asked what other uses this company may make of the data, on which
    there’s the potential to make lots more money (note Google makes $billions this
    way). Their product overview webpage says they use all communication channels
    including email, but doesn’t say how they get people’s email addresses.
    Their targetted messaging webpage says they will not suggest costly options to
    low-income customers but doesn’t say how they get their income.

    I’m all in favor of the goal of conserving energy and providing consumers
    info to do that, but there’s something a bit amiss about redefining that to
    mean treating customers as targets to be invaded and spammed and pushed to
    sign up for programs that benefit the utility, rather than empowering
    citizens to be in control of their lives (and be in control of information
    about them), and make decisions based on criteria of their choosing.

    While the show focussed mostly on the smart grid rather than meters,
    when a caller raised the issue of EMF sensitivity to the meters the guests
    dismissed it with “experts say there is no major health effect”, “the levels are
    lower than cellphones”, “people dont like change”, “fear of the unknown”, etc.

    I thought the program’s website http://www.sciencefriday.com used to have a
    way for people to post comments on the website but I don’t see that now; the
    contact page has their email and phone. It wouldn’t hurt to call on them to
    air the other side of the story, especially if there are specific people who
    can be suggested that are knowledgable, verbally articulate, and willing to
    speak on the show. As of 2004 it had 1.5 million listeners.

    Rebuttals to some of the points proponents make can be found at

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