Smart meters could be used to spy on TV viewing, say researchers
GERMANY— Smart electricity meters could be used to monitor what appliances are being used in individual homes, and even what programmes are being watched on TV, researchers have warned.
The new electronic meters allow energy companies to monitor usage in far more detail, and transmit data directly back to the supplier. They are being introduced by companies in Germany and across Europe.
A study by the Münster University of Applied Sciences, as part of its data privacy management project, looked at the usage data collected by a smart meter in a test home. Researchers were able to pick out patterns in the data when different devices were used.
When a test film played on the TV alternated dark and light scenes every 30 seconds, researchers saw clear peaks and troughs in the data. Even with other appliances running at the same time, it would probably be possible to identify a programme from the patterns in the data, they said.
They said the detailed data could allow “intrusive identification and monitoring of equipment within consumers’ homes”. The data, which is transmitted in unencrypted form, could in theory be used to identify homes watching a pirated copy of a film that is not officially available, for instance.
The researchers suggest that privacy could be protected by collecting usage data at less frequent intervals, encrypting it before transmitting it back to the supplier, and deleting it after a certain amount of time.