Consumers already face a laundry list of daily privacy issues ranging from Facebook’s failure to police how user data is abused, to ISPs that routinely track your every online movement down to the millisecond.
But another, less talked about privacy problem has slowly been gaining steam: the modern, electrical utility smart meter.
Modern electricity usage meters provide innumerable benefits to utility companies, including a variety of remote access and monitoring tools to better manage the power grid. They also dramatically reduce the cost of technician visits for on-location meter readings.
The benefits to consumers have been less impressive, however. Some models have been found to interfere with some home routers, and, like so many internet-connected devices, other variants are easily hacked.
I remember when my utility in Michigan wore me down and I let them install the one for my house. The reported benefits, specifically the cost saving reflected in the fact that a meter reader was no longer dispatched to my house every month, never materialized.
I never considered the privacy implications. I should have.
Back in Illinois, the court warned that the entire fight could have been avoided if the city-owned utility had simply provided users with the option of using a traditional meter instead of forcing the upgrade. They also could have provided consumers the ability to opt out of data collection.
“Naperville could have avoided this controversy—and may still avoid future uncertainty—by giving its residents a genuine opportunity to consent to the installation of smart meters, as many other utilities have,” the court said.
As the country debates new privacy rules in the wake of endless hacking scandals and rampant social media and broadband ISP data collection, it’s important not to forget about the lowly electrical meter. And as the internet of broken things often makes clear, sometimes the “dumber” technical solution is the smarter bet when it comes to privacy and security.