Power vs. Privacy: Smart grid could turn appliances into spies, experts warn
2010-05-14 0:00

By Paul Gallant | CBC.ca

Do you want your fridge talking about you behind your back?

With the rapid adoption of a North American "smart grid" aimed at helping consumers conserve electricity, itís also possible that smart appliances will be able to transmit information about their activities (and yours) through the power lines. Your electricity utility may not yet be able to determine when you snack, do laundry or shower, but privacy advocates are sounding the alarm that systems need to be put in place to guard details about a householdís electricity usage from prying eyes.

A paper released last November by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the U.S.-based Future of Privacy Forum proposes building privacy controls right into the smart grid before the system is fully rolled out.

Although different utilities define the smart grid in different ways, the key feature is a two-way communication system between a householdís meter and the electricity utility so that energy consumption can be tracked with incredible ó sometimes even minute-by-minute ó detail.

"The Smart Grid will enable third parties to peer into your home," says commissioner Ann Cavoukian. "You can imagine how tempting the marketing opportunities will be."


Image
So-called smart meters are the first step in creating a smart grid. In Canada, Ontario has been first off the mark. The province has already installed 1.1 million smart meters and plans to have one in every household by the end of 2010. In the U.S., Boulder, Colo., has taken the lead to become the first city with smart meters for every customer.

"Our expectation is that this network will be 100 or 1,000 times larger than the internet," Marie Hattar, vice-president of marketing at U.S.-based Cisco Network Systems Solutions, said when the company announced last year that it intended to make communication equipment for the smart grid. "If you think about it, some homes have internet access, but some donít. Everyone has electricity access ó all of those homes could potentially be connected."

How it works

In its most basic form, the smart grid allows utilities to read meters without sending out an employee; instead the meters send a reading back to the utility automatically. But Ontarioís push into smart meters has been aimed at changing consumer behaviour, so the launch in that province goes further.

"The Ontario government wanted to get price transparency into the hands of the consumers," says Rick Stevens, director of distribution development at Ontarioís Hydro One. "So weíre building all the back-office systems to allow customers to get better price transparency through time-of-use rates, which is something weíll be rolling out in the next few months."

Many households with smart meters can already go online and log in to an energy-use account to see how much energy they used during a specific time period. By giving people more detailed information about their electricity usage, the assumption is that they will be willing to reduce their consumption or re-schedule it to off-peak hours when the rate may be cheaper.

Privacy concerns

Things get trickier from a privacy perspective if the system offers real-time statistics, since electricity use is a good indication of whether someone is at home at that very moment and what they are doing - if theyíre awake or asleep, for example.

Eventually, utilities will have the ability to allow consumers to see how their energy use compares to that of their neighbours, information that, if not sufficiently protected, could reveal many things about your neighboursí comings and goings as well.

Utilities promise this data will be encrypted and assigned an anonymous number that canít be tracked back to an individual customer. But the cyber security co-ordination task group that has been addressing smart grid privacy concerns in the U.S. has warned, "there is a lack of formal privacy policies, standards, or procedures by entities who are involved in the smart grid and collect information."

It added that, "comprehensive and consistent definitions of personally identifiable information do not generally exist in the utility industry."

Stevens, who has been in touch with Cavoukian and has read the smart grid report, says Hydro One has both hardware and software safeguards in place to preserve customer privacy.

"Hydro Oneís approach is to build security requirements right up front and put them into our tender documents so that safeguards are integrated as part of the overall design," says Stevens. "Privacy by design is what we live and breathe."

Smart appliances

Hydro One has policies in place that prohibit it from selling customer information to third parties. But the pressure for third-parties to access power-usage information will only increase.

Many companies are working on new products ó electric vehicles, smart appliances and energy-production systems like solar panels ó that have the potential to take advantage of the smart gridís two-way communication system to send usage information from individual appliances and devices to a central office where it can be accessed by the utility or by the user. Whirlpool Corp., for example, announced in January it would produce one million smart appliances by the end of 2011 and make all its appliances smart grid-compatible by the end of 2015.

Device-specific information would be useful to the consumer to get credit, for example, if they were feeding electricity back into the grid from solar panels or a windmill. Some appliances could adjust their own energy consumption according to the time of day or by monitoring what other appliances were running in the home.

This kind of information could help make a home more efficient in terms of energy consumption, but it would also be tempting information for marketers, governments and even thieves. The Future of Privacy report suggests that extensive information could be gleaned from the grid ó everything from when you shower or watch TV to which appliances and gadgets you have in your home, and when you use them.

The report urges that any third-party access to the information should not be a deal between the utilities and the third parties, but between the consumers and the third parties. As well, third parties should agree not to correlate data with data obtained from other sources or the individual, without the consent of the individual.

"There always needs be a policy to provide levels of protection, or at least transparency, about how the data will be used," says Christopher Wolf of the Future of Privacy Forum. "Itís not the technology thatís bad, itís the use of the technology."


Stevens says itís hard to predict how smart appliances and vehicles will interact with the grid. For example, in the future you may be able to plug your electric vehicle into a friendís meter and, by keying in your code, have it billed to your account. This system could make it easier for a personís whereabouts to be tracked, but right now itís just an idea.

"Itís not that weíre not thinking about it ó itís just that we donít build cars, so we have to watch the car makers to see where theyíre going," says Stevens. "We canít start building functionality because we donít know the requirements at this point."

Ontario privacy commissioner Cavoukian has been calling for companies, governments and other agencies to build their information systems with privacy as the default mode. "If privacy is to live well into the future, we can no longer rely on regulatory compliance. Smart privacy is about having a whole arsenal of protections. That includes having regulations, but theyíre not going to be enough for the future."


Article from: CBC.ca


Video from: YouTube.com




Also tune into:

Charles Farrier - No CCTV, Campaign Against Big Brother Camera Surveillance

Nick Rosen - Going Off-Grid, How to Escape the Big Brother System

Aaron Franz - The Age of Transitions

John Harris - Illusion, Common and Commercial Law & the Ego

Alan Watt - Surveillance, Science & The Grid of Control

David Icke - íBig Brotherí By-Election

Jerry E. Smith - The "Green" Conspiracy



Related Articles
Living off the grid Ė how to escape the spies all around us
Experts hack power grid in no time
Free Energy - Home Generator -Zero Point Energy - Off the Grid (Video)
Survivorman - Off The Grid (Video)
Military Industrial Complex Biometric Surveillance Control Grid Revealing Itself
Are Smart Grids Undermining User Privacy?
Privacy concerns surround Ontarioís Smart Grid plan
"Tres Amigas" Superstation Could Connect the 3 US Electrical Grids
From Smart Grid to Big Brother?
What will talking power meters say about you?
UK Warns Of Security Threat From Smart Meters
Those evil smart meters
Ordering Pizza in the Future (Video)
Big Brother only wants to help you
If youíve done nothing wrong, you have everything to worry about
í Greensí movement may have darker agenda
Orwellian Ubiquitous Computing May Build Ultimate Surveillance Society (Video)


Latest News from our Front Page

MSNBC Guest: "You Don't Have to Have a White Person Around to Have White Supremacy Play Out"
2015-04-27 22:36
What makes the academic study of ‚Äúwhite supremacy‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúwhite privilege‚ÄĚ so perfect for racialists is that it requires absolutely no parameters of study. There are no standards of proof. There is no way any claims can be vetted in peer-reviewed journals because the ‚Äúevidence‚ÄĚ can be explained by other factors. Anything and everything can be pointed to as being ...
Immigration, World Poverty and Gumballs
2015-04-27 22:23
Immigration - Global humanitarian reasons for current U.S. immigration are tested in this updated version of immigration author and journalist Roy Beck's colorful presentation of data from the World Bank and U.S. Census Bureau. The 1996 version of this immigration gumballs presentation has been one of the most viewed immigration policy presentations on the internet. Presented by immigration author/journalist Roy Beck Learn ...
Russian Jews face ‚Äėgrave dangers‚Äô if Putin is ousted, warns senior rabbi
2015-04-27 21:17
Russian Jews would be in serious danger if Russian President Vladimir Putin was ever ousted from power, a senior Russian rabbi has stated. He added, the current government guarantees the safety of Jewish people better than many Western powers do. “The Jews of Russia must realize the dangers inherent in the possible collapse of the Putin government, understand the rules of ...
White People Always Were A Minority...So What?
2015-04-27 21:44
The HuffPost is apparently cock-a-hoop about the fact that mass immigration and falling birthrates seem set to reduce Whites to a minority in the USA within a few decades. They also think it is a good laugh, coming out with a video entitled "So, You're About to Become a Minority." This is framed as a pretend public information film aimed ...
Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female
2015-04-25 4:52
Shieldmaidens are not a myth! A recent archaeological discovery has shattered the stereotype of exclusively male Viking warriors sailing out to war while their long-suffering wives wait at home with baby Vikings. (We knew it! We always knew it.) Plus, some other findings are challenging that whole ‚Äúrape and pillage‚ÄĚ thing, too. Researchers at the University of Western Australia decided ...
More News »