Do Smart Meters Present A Privacy Risk?
June 14, 2012

Do Smart Meters Present A Privacy Risk?

Derek Walter for

A UK privacy group says that the increased use of smart meters is a risk to users' privacy.

Privacy International, a London-based organization that monitors privacy policies both in the UK and worldwide, says that the energy meters are able to collect data such as when users are home, how they spend their leisure time and the kind of medical devices that they are using.

While energy firms in the UK have attempted to assure the public that their privacy rights will be protected, Privacy International argues that proposed safeguards do not do enough to address the concerns. Over 30 million smart meters are to be installed in UK homes by 2019.

According to the UK´s Department for Energy and Climate Change, users will have the ability to opt out of the data collection. Energy UK published a document on its web site that attempts to alleviate some of the consumers´ fears. For example, the company pledges that, “Consumption information will not be collected in real-time (your energy supplier won´t be able to see the exact time you have used energy, just a total amount used between any two separate meter readings) unless it is needed for a particular product or service you have agreed to take.”

However, Anna Fielder of Privacy International told BBC News that simply giving consumers the choice to opt out will not do enough.

“Suppliers will go for daily data collection and our experience tells us many people won't bother to opt out. We think people should have the right to opt into frequent data collection at every stage,” she said.

A further sign of the increasing debate is a set of privacy guidelines from the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), an organization that has published a set of guidelines that go even further than that is being proposed by Energy UK.

For example, the EDPS report raises concerns about how this data may be used by third parties or criminals. For example, by studying energy usage someone could ascertain when the members of a household are sleeping, away on vacation, what devices they use most often or specific physical ailments.

Energy UK does disclose that the energy information may be shared with third parties, but at this point it is unclear at what level of specificity.

Those who want to investigate the policies that Energy UK has in place can visit the official FAQ section on its web site.