Power vs. Privacy: Smart Grid Could Turn Appliances Into Spies, Experts Say

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Power vs. Privacy: Smart Grid Could Turn Appliances Into Spies, Experts Say
CBC News Canada
By Paul Gallant
February 18, 2010

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, it’s 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 household’s 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 household’s meter and the electricity utility so that energy consumption can be tracked with incredible — sometimes even minute-by-minute — 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.”

Christopher Wolf quoted:

“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. “It’s not the technology that’s bad, it’s the use of the technology.”

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