“You sure drink a lot of tea” — what Smart Meters can tell about you

NIST power-usage-graph_web

Graph: National Institute of Standards and Technology

You Sure Drink a Lot of Tea: Smart meter data can show what’s going on in a home, because tea kettles, toasters, and other appliances have identifiable load signatures.

Back in 2007, when the Dutch government announced that all 7 million homes in the Netherlands would be equipped with smart meters by 2013, it anticipated little resistance…But consumers worried that such intelligent monitoring devices, which transmit power-usage information to the utility as frequently as every 15 minutes, would make them vulnerable to thieves, annoying marketers, and police investigations. They spoke out so strongly against these “espionage meters” that the (Netherlands) government made them optional.

It all sounds less paranoid when you consider that each appliance — the refrigerator, kettle, toaster, washing machine — has its own energy fingerprint, or “appliance load signature,” that a smart meter can read. Anyone who gets hold of this data gets a glimpse of exactly what appliances you use and how often you use them.
Privacy on the Smart Grid, Ariel Bleicher, October 2010 http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/the-smarter-grid/privacy-on-the-smart-grid
IEEE — the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers — is a professional and industry organization.

Denver (Colorado) Post —

The “smart” electric grid may be just a little too smart. Once a smart meter is attached to a home, it can gather a lot more data than just how much electricity a family uses.

It can tell how many people live in the house, when they get up, when they go to sleep and when they aren’t home.

It can tell how many showers they take and loads of laundry they do. How often they use the microwave. How much television they watch and what kind of TV they watch it on.

“This is technology that can pierce the blinds,” said Elias Quinn, author of a smart grid privacy study for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
“New electricity grids may be smart, but not so private,”  May 18, 2010: http://www.denverpost.com/frontpage/ci_15106430)

Smart Meters collect finely detailed personal energy usage data and wirelessly transmit that data to the utility company and to whoever has access to the feed. The level of detail collected by the meter can also be increased. Individual privacy was considered so important as to be enshrined in the California Constitution. This is an invasion of our privacy.

This recent article on a report by that Smart Meter data, without the Home Area Network of smart appliances — http://smartgridawareness.org/2014/05/16/smart-meter-privacy-invasion-alert/

Spectrum IEEE

Each appliance has its own energy fingerprint.

Smart Metering and Privacy: A Report for the Colorado PUC (Public Utilities Commission), Spring 2009

 “…the load signatures of various appliance categories are surprisingly unique, and an impressive amount of detail concerning customer usage habits could be discerned… smart meters allow for the collection and communication of highly detailed electricity usage information…all told, 52 million smart meters would be installed throughout the country over the next five to seven years. Smart-metered information, collected at levels as fine as one-minute intervals, can be disaggregated into its constituent appliance events, allowing both consumers and utilities (and anyone else with access to the information) to see exactly what makes up an individual household’s electricity demands.”
Elias L. Quinn: “Smart Metering & Privacy: Existing Law and Competing Policies,”

Chaos Communication Conference, Germany (January 2012) –

Hackers analyzed Smart Meter data and were able to identify “the number of PCs or LCD TVs in a home, what TV program was being watched, and if a DVD movie being played had copyright-protected material.”            http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/79486
Hacking For Privacy: 2 days for amateur hacker to hack smart meter, fake readings

At the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, January 2012:

Tech companies are poised to gather unprecedented insights into consumers’ lives– how much they eat, whether they exercise, when they are home and who they count as friends. Silicon Valley is in a gold rush for information, highlighted by Google’s announcement Tuesday that it would incorporate data posted by users on its social networking service into the results of its main search engine.

Microsoft’s Kinect game console collects some biometric information that Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said on Monday is a potential springboard for health-care and other industries.

“We are collecting data second by second,” said Tivo Senior Vice President Tara Maitra.

LG was among several companies to showcase “connected homes,” where appliances are connected to one another as well as energy grids via the Web. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/privacy-rights-activists-worry-about-potential-abuse-of-high-tech-devices-featured-at-ces-event/2012/01/10/gIQAX3kJpP_story.html

Harvard Business Review, October 2010

Aside from the home consumers, let’s imagine a company’s data center is making energy efficiency a top priority. The company management is keen on monitoring energy and reporting usage back to the grid. The data center facility controllers will communicate with smart meters and send data to the utilities to be analyzed. If in some way this data is leaked, it could pose serious issues to the overall security posture of the company and data center.
How Private Is Your Smart Grid Data? Usman Sindhu October 13, 2010

The profile at the beginning of this section is from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Much finer data collection is planned through the Home Area Network (HAN), with transmitters in all appliances, and additional “Smart” devices.

The UCLA Smart Grid project installed wireless sensors in rooms which can tell how many people are in the room. These “vacancy sensors” are becoming required in new building codes.


This and additional information on privacy and surveillance are on pages 19-27, https://smartmeterharm.org/2012/12/14/report-smart-meter-problems-dec-2012/

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.