NEWS22 September 2011

Smart meters could be used to spy on TV viewing, say researchers

Energy Europe Technology

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.



13 years ago

While technically feasible, highly unlikely. So they were able to determine 'peaks and troughs' in the data with a 30-second alternating dark-light test pattern. That is hardly the degree of definition and granularity that would be needed to determine 'television viewing' as we understand it in today's commercial environment. In order to determine WHICH programme was being viewed you would need to be able to have some sort of master reference pattern of all known programmes to work out what the 'peaks and troughs' meant. As I said - not infeasible but highly unlikely.

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13 years ago

Any type of monitoring device inside the home is going to provide more information about a subject's living habits than without. How this information will be collected and interpreted will transform over time. Is it not reasonable to assume that something invasive could be done with this data? Perhaps this is only the tip of the iceberg of what could come of information manipulation. And I, for one, prefer to keep my head out of the sand.

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13 years ago

this is BS im sorry but just think about how many devices there are that use electricity it had to be in the high billions if not trillions different companies antique lamps ,novelty items, what are they going to do have a profile for every single known device that plugs in?plus they would need to have a profile for every single combination of all possible devices ,that would be impossible ,for example i have a ge stove ,an lg cellphone charger, an amana air conditioner, a lava light ,i use an electric knife to slice some turkey,i have a foot or a shiatsu massager ,an old nes nintendo ,and an sony lcd tv, you have totally different devices ,a different number of devices, different manufacturers, made in different years, they would need to have a profile for every single possible device on earth, and how would they know if 2 devices running at once had the same profile as another device or another pair of devices, it is totally possible that my cell phone charger and my bread maker has the same profile as someone elses ,toaster and foot bath running at the same time, or as 1 appliance running at once, it could never work ,there are too many different devices and possible combinations if those devices ,alot of which could be the same

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