Smart meters 4: a threat for our security and our privacy ?

This last post about reactions observed about Smart Meters addresses a topic that is very variably perceived according to countries and individuals: invasion of privacy. This is probably the subject about which our imagination is most active.

I often read about smart meters “These meters are watching the least of our move: they allow to know when you switch on a lamp or when you take your shower

These statements seem unfair and maybe discredit a fundamental matter.

Smart meters can measure the consumption every minute with a precision of 1W; ie they can detect the start or stop of a device consuming more than 60W. This accuracy is not sufficient to detect the consumption of most of current bulbs.

As for detecting the time of our shower, it is equally difficult: in most housing, either hot water is produced by a collective or a gas boiler and individual smart electricity meter gives no useful indication, or hot water is produced by an electric water heater and taking a shower during the day will lead to a power consumption during peak hours (usually overnight) and time of the shower is not detectable.

The algorithms, that analyse the power consumption of residential housings, nevertheless allow a reasonable understanding of what medium and high power (from 100W to 3kW) domestic electrical devices are put in charge, according to their consumption profile and frequency of use. Misinterpretations are still numerous but the main lines of our rhythm and our way of life can be understood.

It is excessive to say that the least of our move will be monitored but it is true that the use of major appliances is monitored and can provide information on aspects of our lifestyle and our presence in a dwelling.

Concerning the same subject, I also read that “These meters allow to take hold of some equipment

Such a feature may actually exist on some meters but is today rarely used in Europe; this does not mean it never will.

The risk of harm to privacy is high enough to make necessary that the energy companies reassure their clients on the different uses of consumption data through clear communication and commitments.

I feel a sensitivity about this topic yet confined to a minority of individuals paying more attention to it. But I would not be surprised to see this sensitivity extend to the majority as a reaction to the development of a more and more obvious exploitation of personal data by commercial companies who had access to it.

Energy companies, which have a pioneering approach in this area, may certainly turn it soon into a significant competitive advantage.

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