"The modernization of the grid will increase the level of personal information detail available as well as the instances of collection, use and disclosure of personal information," warns a report (PDF) jointly released Tuesday by the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), a think tank made up of chief privacy officers, advocates and academics.This is really not a good thing. Interestingly, it should be one of those rare things that concerns both those on the left and right (such, as for example, reliance upon oil) but just like those other rare things (such as reliance upon oil) will likely not be sensibly solved.
Smart grid technology -- including new "smart meters" being attached to businesses and homes -- is designed in part to provide consumers with real-time feedback on power consumption patterns and levels. But as these systems begin to come online, it remains unclear how utilities and partner companies will mine, share and use that new wealth of information, experts warn.
"Instead of measuring energy use at the end of each billing period, smart meters will provide this information at much shorter intervals," the report notes. "Even if electricity use is not recorded minute by minute, or at the appliance level, information may be gleaned from ongoing monitoring of electricity consumption such as the approximate number of occupants, when they are present, as well as when they are awake or asleep. For many, this will resonate as a 'sanctity of the home' issue, where such intimate details of daily life should not be accessible."
According to the study, examples of information that utilities and partner companies might be able to glean from more granular power consumption data include whether and how often exercise equipment is used; whether a house has an alarm system and how often it is activated; when occupants usually shower, and how often they wash their clothes.
Frankly, for a whole host of reasons, there should be less emphasis on power grids, and far more emphasis on highly localized, even individualized, power sources. But few seem to be preaching this.