Smart meter data a huge privacy risk, says EU watchdog

Valuable to employers, taxman, criminals, landlords, insurance companies...

Europe’s independent privacy watchdog is pushing for tight controls over smart meter data collection, fearing the data could be used to exploit and harm consumers.

While the devices could help reduce energy consumption and permit more granular pricing, the data they collect and transmit may also be used to “infer information about domestic activities”, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has warned.

The watchdog raised its concerns on Friday in response to the European Commission’s proposed rollout of smart meters across Europe by 2020.

At the most basic level, if data was in the wrong hands it could “indicate to criminals when a house is unoccupied”.

“Data can be used to assess whether anyone is at home and when the members of the household are away at work or on vacation,” the independent watchdog said.

Wider privacy risks include exposure of medical conditions through the collection of data about medical devices or baby-monitors, which could help build a profile of the daily habits of a household and its members.

In addition to the volume of data the devices could generate, it will be transmitted to utilities that historically have held very little sensitive data about their customers.

The intervals between collection will be reduced from a quarterly or yearly basis to as little as every quarter of an hour, producing a trove of data that would be highly valued by advertisers and criminals alike.

“Unless adequate safeguards are established to ensure that only authorized third parties may access and process data for clearly specified purposes and in compliance with applicable data protection law, deployment of smart metering may lead to tracking the everyday lives of people in their own homes and building detailed profiles of all individuals based on their domestic activities,” it said.

Other third parties that may be interested in the data include law enforcement agencies, tax authorities, insurance companies, landlords, and employers, the EDPS said.

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