Smart meters and smart grids
Maybe this is all very old news to you, but I’ve been reading a bit about smart meters and smart grids. I don’t know how far down the line they are in Israel, but the EU hopes to see smart meters installed in 80% of homes by 2020.
The smart thing about smart electricity meters (though they could be gas or water meters too) is that they talk to the electricity company about your electricity usage. This means that the electricity company knows exactly how much electricity you use when. In turn, this means that it can have peak and off-peak rates for electricity and charge you accordingly. The benefit of this is that it is expected to encourage people to use electricity more sparingly.
The somewhat surprising privacy implication is that the level of knowledge smart meters can gather is so precise that they can know which devices you are using in your house. Do you cook your food with a microwave oven? How long is your TV on every day? Do you have a big fluorescent light that is growing your home grown weed?
Marketers would love this information. So would the government. And so would insurance companies. The thing is, it could also be very useful for each of us to know more about our energy consumption too.
This would seem to be a field in which privacy awareness is high. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has written a clear explanation of the privacy threats that might be realised through a smart grid, as have The Future of Privacy Forum and the Canadian Information and Privacy Commissioner.
This example is a nice reminder of how technologies can serve other purposes from those for which they were created.