I recently came across a video highlighting the abuse of smart meter usage data for making money by invading your privacy. Sadly, I was already familiar with smart meter concerns from firsthand experience. Here are some risks to consider along with a few solutions.

Here’s the video in question. The key portion is the commercial aimed at utility providers (starting at 4:02) and especially the phrase for sales point 3 (at 5:00).

This video raises some shocking issues. The key quote is at 5:00, where this business says to the utility company:

“Onzo gives utility companies the ability to monetize their customer data by providing a direct link to appropriate third-party organizations based on the customer’s identified character.”

And of course, the cartoonish customers in the ad are absolutely thrilled to know that their utility will be making extra $$$ by selling their detailed usage data to third parties who can then call up saying things like, “According to your utility company you tend to take long showers. Boy, have we got some great products for you…”

The video then highlights the risk of mis-profiling folks. I admit I found the example a little far-fetched. But other examples exist in reality in abundance. Most of the time, it’s due to assuming that high power use around the clock indicates a secret marijuana growing operation. Here, a bitcoin production operation (a power intensive process running computers at full speed around the clock) was misidentified as an illegal drug operation. In fact, your power company might be the one suggesting to cops that you are a drug producer. (Except for the MJ states, I suppose)

However, looking over the site that made the video, I would strongly advise against any of their recommended actions for dealing with a smart meter if you have one. Here’s why:

  • Metering equipment is typically property of the utility company. This is why your deed often includes easements allowing them to access their equipment outside your house.
  • There is a formal process to legally remove easements from your deed, but it is much longer and more involved than the site hints at. Declaring the easement over all by your sole presumed sovereignty at best will result in the utility ignoring you, and at worst the utility showing up to rip out everything from the meter to the property line. Hope you were ready to be off grid…
  • These are often installed as a condition of continued service. Unless your state or local laws provide some sort of guarantee of utility service despite any refusal to allow “equipment upgrades” then you’re probably out of luck.
  • The recommended action documents for removing your smart meter without invoking legal action are plastered with warnings that they do not contain legal advice and you better review with your own attorney first. You’re probably not gonna like what a real attorney is going to tell you.
  • Guess how many sneaky cheap court tricks the high-paid lawyers in the big utility company’s permanent legal department know for dealing with objectors like you on a regular basis. Are you smarter or more experienced than these lawyers? If you’ve retained your own lawyer, is he smarter and more experienced than the pros on the utility company legal staff?
  • Do you really want to spend years in court and 5 to 6 figure sums on the chance that you might eventually win and force them to remove that smart meter?

But how bad is this smart meter stuff?

Well, here’s a comparison of the RF exposure levels:

 

And here’s an example of the data granularity the power company can see:

 

It’s Not Just Power Companies

When I lived on the Eastern Seaboard in a large urban area, I suddenly began receiving notices from the municipal water utility like this:

Here’s what was going on. The water meters had the mechanical meter at the pipeline point of entry inside house basements, with wires running to a repeater mounted on the outside of the house. I’ve lived other places where the meter was physically located at the shutoff valve in the yard, but this inside/outside arrangement may have been due to harsh northern winters. The upgrade required replacing the mechanical meter inside the home, as well as the repeater on the outside. Thus, to access the mechanical water meter, the workers had to have homeowner permission to enter the home. So, unlike many smart meter horror stories, there would be no surprise smart meter.

But the threat was that I either comply and accept the new smart meter, or else my city water supply would be indefinitely shut off. Also, local regulations would not allow a well to be dug on my property, so if I refused then I’d be completely dependent on rainwater barrels for all my household water needs.

They wouldn’t really cut me off, would they? A power utility didn’t care about leaving this disabled woman in the cold until the negative PR reached national outcry.

Unlike most customers, I started digging through the links to see how bad it would be. At least the RF transmitter would be outside the house…

Keystone Utility Systems describes themselves as “a national company specializing in the replacement and upgrade of Meters, Endpoints, and Repeaters for Water AMI and AMR Systems.” Basically, they are a middleman making big bucks off selling 3rd party smart meter systems to local utilities and then doing the installations. They have operations all over the Eastern seaboard and a few on opposite corners of the nation.

Here are some of the ad phrases from the brochures (targeted at utilities as their customers) of a company that makes the smart meters:

Turn Your Data into Proactive Intelligence
Fast, easy access to powerful information is imperative for utilities. You need it.
Your customers expect it. And increasing government regulations demand it.
Wow. Because I was totally calling my utility company and demanding what my minute-by-minute water usage says about me as a person.
Enhanced Customer Service
• Consumption graphs with temperature and precipitation overlays provide
an easy-to-understand picture of how water is being used by each
customer.
• Consumer engagement website and smartphone/tablet app provide your
end water customers with easy access to their usage activity to gain a
greater understanding and control of their consumption patterns.
Man, if I need a smart phone app to understand that I tend to use more water in the evenings when everyone in the family bathes or showers, then THE NANNY STATE IS HERE BECAUSE WE HIRED IT, and we deserve everything that is coming.
Here’s a screen capture from one brochure showing an image of the software display the utility would see:
Check it out! By-the-minute usage data for my last decade of utility use. When my water company can make suggestions about what time I ought to flush the toilet, that is enhanced customer service! Amiright?
Here’s my personal favorite. Study the brochure image below and then take a pop-quiz to see how much you noticed.
Test yourself:
  1. The man pictured is:
    1. A utility employee doing his rounds.
    2. A hacker [not necessarily Russian] or identity thief getting to know the resident of that home in the background.
    3. Both of the above.
  2. What is the pictured man most likely thinking?
    1. At last! Here’s the source of that neighborhood water leak!
    2. Man of the house is gone at work and the shower is currently running. Interesting
  3. If below is a picture of the customer in the house at about the same time, what is she thinking?
    1. I feel so secure knowing that my utility company will be able to tell me if I’m using too much water right now. Maybe they’re parked in a car outside right now.
    2. I’m so excited about my new smart meter!
    3. What happened to my privacy? Get out of my house!

Grade your own answers. Modern educayshun gives full credit as a participation prize.

What to Do?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any good escapes from smart meters unless you live under state or local laws mandating continuation of services even if you refuse the equipment upgrade.

So the alternate solution is to live “under the radar” which is becoming increasingly important these days.

Shortly before I left the big city, my water utility installed the smart meter. What choice did I have, really? I voiced my concerns and the girl speaking on behalf of the utility assured me the minute-by-minute usage data was only to detect water leaks and they would never, never try to analyze what I’m doing in my home or share the detailed data with third parties.

Does that come with a pinky-promise and cross-your-heart-hope-to-die oath? Because that childishness is about the level I trust government or corporate bodies to a.) know their own policies they’re talking about, b.) keep their word, c.) not change their mind and automatically opt me in to the new deal.

Now that I’m more self-reliant in the Redoubt, no one knows how much water I use from my well or my secondary water source. Sure, I have to have state license to the water rights for those uses, but it ends there. No one but me even knows how many gallons a year I choose to use or when I tend to use them.

Power meters installed this century in rural areas are most likely going to be smart meters. Driving all those country roads would be a costly amount of meter-checking labor hours. There is an advantage that if severe weather breaks a line somewhere along those miles and miles of remote power lines, the company can pinpoint and repair the outage in less than a day instead of a week.

Still don’t like it? Well, what are they going to know if between the meter and the house you have a solar panel array and battery bank, so that your power record pretty much only says you have a connection you don’t use?

If that’s still too much intrusion, you can go all-in and sever the grid tie. Tell the company to take their equipment and their easement and never darken your driveway again.

Even when it comes to trash service, it’s not like someone is going to count your bags or set one aside to pilfer through later, when you take your own load to the dump and throw it on the local pile.

Don’t like the smart meter invasion of privacy? FLEE THE CITY and live someplace where you are not dependent on signing your privacy away to Orwellian governments and corporations.